Mommy,” she moves toward me. Her gaze is locked, voice shaky. “My throat feels funny.”
“Funny, like a scratchy tickle or funny like you can’t swallow?”
“Just really funny,” Veronica shrugs her shoulder.
“Can you swallow?” I ask the important question.
She nods her head, “Yes.”
Shit, what did she eat? and I immediately act giving her a dose of Benadryl. Then I problem-solve: “What did you eat? … Okay. Let’s look at the label.”
Her first allergic reaction was at eight weeks old.
I opened her diaper and spotted blood in her poo.
My niece has allergies, so I dialed up my sister in law – who also happens to be a doctor – to inquire. Similar to her oldest, she suspected a milk protein allergy and directed me to our pediatrician to have Veronica’s stool tested.
She was allergic.
Since I was nursing her, the doctor advised me give up dairy and told us to slow down the introduction of solid foods and push back those known to cause reactions – eggs, nuts, seafood.
The second time she reacted, she was one years old.
We plopped her highchair and fed her scrambled eggs. Within minutes, her face broke out in hives and we knew we had a problem. A phone call and a mad dash to her pediatrician, and it was confirmed that she was allergic to eggs.
We’ve been on the road to avoiding, testing, and challenging since.
Do I wish she didn’t have allergies?
Of course, but it could a hell of a lot worse. She’s a healthy, happy eight-year-old girl.
People ask, “Is it something you ate while you were pregnant?” or comment “So many kids have allergies these days. It wasn’t like that before. What’s causing all of these food allergies?”
I don’t have those answers. I ate lots of scrambled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches while pregnant with Veronica. I rarely ate ate eggs and never touched peanut butter while pregnant with Stella. Veronica is allergic; Stella is not.
I have no way of knowing why that is.
All I know is it is what it is.
10 Things Kids with Food Allergies Want You to Know
Teach Them How to Self-Advocate: We have open communication about what it means to have food allergies and how to stay safe. Veronica’s known from an early age 1.) What foods make her sick and what foods are “safe” and “unsafe” for her. 2.) How to read labels. 3.) To trust her gut if a food looks suspicious and to ask the ingredients of foods at restaurants, friends’ houses, and parties. 4.) What to do if she has a reaction. 5.) Always carry her EpiPen and Benedryl.
We include her in the allergy management and that has built her confidence.
In the picture below, she’s about to go on a field trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo with her classmates and teachers. We walked through the food options, talked to her teacher, and then left her with her allergy pen and Benadryl in her cute purse. She doesn’t need to share that with any of her friends unless she wants to tell them her business.
Inform Those Who Care for Them: We have action plans to protect her. She has a 504 plan and the school is equipped with her EpiPen and Benadryl. Annually, Veronica’s allergist writes up an emergency plan for school. Then we meet with the school nurse to discuss changes in her allergies and treatment as symptoms and severity can change.
Our experience has been one of understanding and acceptance. Veronica’s teacher emailed me before the zoo visit to run through foods and she lets her keep a box of Oreos in the classroom for impromptu treats. The parents of Veronica’s friends know she has food allergies and what they are. If she’s going to a party or a friend’s house, either I offer to bring food or most times, the parents approach me to see what she can and can’t have and offer alternatives for her.
There’s No Room for Shyness: You’re the parent who asks what the ingredients are in the cake/pizza/bread/pasta at the birthday party or shows up at the party with a mini-Igloo containing foods your child can eat. You’re the mom who asks the server to find out if there’s dairy in the bun or to ask the chef if she can fry the bacon in a pan that wasn’t used for eggs. You’re the dad that holds up the snack line at the pool – apologizing to those behind you as the college kid checks to see if the ice cream sandwich contains tree nuts. Unless you’re certain, ask. Labels change. Restaurants alter their ingredients and suppliers. There is no harm in checking.
Check and Re-Check Labels: Read food labels with your child to teach them how to look for potential allergens. This helps your child understand what is in the food and is a good time to discuss what they can and cannot have. They also learn that some ingredients that can set off their allergies may not always be clearly indicated. This is how we found out about albumin in the rice crispy treats that were not labeled: contains egg, but in fact, did. That day we learned that albumin is egg whites.
There are Missteps: Yes, if you avoid the food, you avoid the reaction. It seems so simple, but it’s not. A week ago, I sent Veronica to school with a cookie. Even though she’s had the oatmeal cookie before, I checked the label upon purchase and again when I packed her lunch. The label said: Contains wheat and soy.
At 11:45 I got a call from her school. She was in the office having an allergic reaction.
“To what?” I asked the school nurse. She said that Veronica’s throat felt funny and she thought there was egg in the cookie. I trust that Veronica knows her body and per her action plan, told the nurse give her a dose of Benadryl. I had checked and double checked the label so I was surprised, but said I would call the store where I bought the cookies to verify with the bakery. It was then that I found out the bakery has mislabeled the package and the cookie did contain egg.
Manage Your Anxiety: Food allergies can be life threatening and that’s frightening. Your child needs to understand the serious nature of his/her food allergies, but it’s also important for the parents to keep their fears in check and be matter-of-fact. Once I’ve talked to Veronica about the place she’ll be and the potential pitfalls, I need trust our action plan and the adults watching her.
This last episode I felt so far away. Not helpless. I have faith in Veronica, her teachers, and school nurse, but I wanted to be with her and felt nervous a good half the day after the call.
Birthday Parties Suck: Those are the words of my oldest when I asked her “what’s the worst part of having allergies?” Her experience of birthday parties is not like everyone else and as much as people include her, I worry about her feeling left out. Spontaneous treats are difficult, but when that happens, I let her know we’ll get something for her later.
The Allergist’s Office is No Fun: Every year, we have Veronica’s blood tested to see if her allergen levels have risen or fallen. This requires blood drawn. She hates this and panics before the needle goes in – sweating and crying and begging me to leave. After the levels in her blood are confirmed, we go to the allergist’s office to have the skin-prick test. She doesn’t like this either. She’s passed two food challenges – both egg and peanut – and was given the green light to try baked goods containing eggs. We’ve spent close to ten hours in the allergist’s office challenging and yet, she’s uncomfortable, so we don’t give her anything containing eggs and avoid peanuts and tree nuts completely.
Food Allergies are Confusing: Made on equipment shared with eggs … Made in the same facility as tree nuts … Allergists guide you. We were told, if she’s had a food and tolerated it and it says made on equipment shared, then continue said food. But this is a grey area. The label that says may contain peanuts feels like a gamble to give it a try, even if she’s gobbled up M&M’s before without a problem. She’s had them before, but the problem is what happens if she gets the one M&M that has a peanut in it? At the same time I wonder, does Chicago Mix really contain traces of peanuts? We don’t want to risk it, so if the package advises may contain traces even if the label reads none, she avoids that food.
They Can’t “Just Try it:” “Can’t she just try it and see what happens?” Eggs, maybe. Her experience was vomiting. She’s developed tolerance and now her reaction is a funny feeling in her mouth. Her experience hasn’t been anaphylactic, but could it become life-threatening? Just trying something with egg in it doesn’t seem wise, especially since it makes her feel funny. Tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame, well, it’s hard to know if just a little bit could send her over the edge. Some kids don’t even need to ingest or touch the foods to get a reaction.
“Will she outgrow it?” people often ask.
I don’t know.
I try to normalize it and keep it positive, especially when confronted with people surprised by allergies.
Last summer we were in a friend’s kitchen and her mother-in-law said to Veronica, “OH my goodness, you’re allergic to eggs? And peanut butter? How horrible for you honey.”
She turned to me and said, “What does she eat?”
Lots and lots of things. There are so many things she can eat.
Does your kiddo have food allergies? Do you have any tips or advice?
P.S. If you or someone you know if newly diagnosed with allergies, check out Kids with Food Allergies.