This morning I was talking to a friend who has a daughter with a food allergy. We were discussing the fact that we both have to bring Epi-pens and Benadryl everywhere and that we can't just head out to restaurants or food festivals without a lot of planning first. I know a lot of parents can do this. I know most of you out there hear of a new restaurant, decide to try it, make a reservation and go enjoy the meal. But with parents of kids with allergies, or parents with allergies themselves, it is a lot harder.
My son was 6 days old when he got sick the first time. The Dr said it was normal for babies to vomit or spit up, and that he was healthy. By 5 months old, my son had dropped down to the 5th% for weight, after being in the 95th% at birth. We knew something was wrong, but being a first time Mom, I had no idea what was going on. I had never dealt with anything like his illness, and I had never dealt with food allergies. Finally at 11 months old, I gave him a meringue cookie made of egg whites, vinegar and sweetener. His face swelled and turned bright red. I called the Dr and got Benadryl into his system immediately. The swelling and redness was completely gone within two minutes of the Benadryl hitting his lips. We got his first allergy testing done just a week later. He was diagnosed with allergies to eggs, beef, shellfish, seafood, peanuts, tree nuts, watermelon, pork. His allergies to nuts, seafood/shellfish, beef and pork were all on the life threatening level. The others were all on lesser levels. (Allergies are rated from level 1-5, 1 being a minor allergy 5 being life threatening.) He has since outgrown his watermelon allergy and egg allergy, and his pork allergy is now down to a level 2. The others are still at a level 4/5. Oh, and he has added (and then outgrown) an allergy to dogs, and added allergies to dust mites, grass, many trees and lots of medications, especially antibiotics.
As a family, we have had to learn how to adjust our lives to keep him safe. It is a daily thing, and now is second nature for us. We still eat unsafe foods, but mostly when we are not around him. We have to make sure we wash our hands and faces and brush our teeth before we go near him after we eat a burger, or peanut butter, or seafood. If we kiss him on the cheek after having a steak or some almonds, he will get hives there. If we kiss him on the lips, he could stop breathing. We make sure we keep all unsafe foods in high cabinets and away from his snacks. We have to read every label at the grocery store and we cannot get anything that is made with his unsafe foods, or made in a factory that processes those unsafe things. We have to order safe foods for him, usually from Peanut Free Planet. Candy and cookies from the grocery store are usually unsafe. We have only found one type of granola bars in stores that are safe for him. Quaker granola has a factory in Canada that doesnt use any nuts in their processing, so we order from them. He tried his very first granola bar soon after his 8th birthday and he said "Mom, now I can be like a normal kid and eat granola bars!" It breaks my heart to know that he felt anything less than a "normal kid" before, but it makes me very happy that I can do something so small to help him feel "normal". We have a great App on our smartphones for dining out. It is called AllergyEats and the restaurants are listed in order of most safe to least safe for allergic customers. It has reviews from families who have eaten at the restaurants and the reviews are very helpful. When we go to restaurants we have to first ask them what their policy is like for allergies. If they don't know, or seem confused, we cannot eat there. There are very few places we feel comfortable eating at. And if the food is unsafe for my son, as a family, we walk out to support him. His safety and health are our priority. So far my older daughter has no allergies. My younger daughter has shown signs of a minor allergy, and has her first testing this fall.
There are many resources online, and many books to help families understand food allergies.
Kids with Food Allergies
The Allergic Child This one has some great kids books for helping kids understand allergies. We have "Allie the Allergic Elephant" and have brought it to each classroom my son and daughter have been in. It really helps the other kids understand how to keep kids with a peanut allergy safe.
Please feel free to contact me HERE if you have any questions.