Allergies in children suck, especially when they are anaphylactic (they seriously do!)
But that doesn’t mean they can’t be dealt with effectively
I seriously never thought that anyone would be remotely interested in my experiences as a mom of a child with several severe allergies (some anaphylactic) but it always turns out to be a real bonding moment when another mom hears I’m in a similar boat and I offer what is deemed to be life-saving advice (a weird pun that only another allergy-mom will get!).
LET ME TAKE YOU BACK
The moment I discovered that my son (now almost 11) was allergic to some foods was when he was 6 months old and his grandma gave him a teaspoon of her iced chocolate while we were out having a little break at Gloria Jeans (good one grandma!).
After his lips swelled to triple their size, we had a rushed, manic trip to the emergency at the nearest hospital (which ended with baby Jake receiving a good dose of antihistamines) and soon afterwards we scored an appointment at the best allergy clinic here in Sydney (who unfortunately closed their books to new clients not long afterwards due to the high demand – lucky for us, we got in!).
So as it turned out, baby Jake had his skin prick test and we discovered he was seriously allergic to all nuts (yep, pretty much all of them, including peanuts, cashews, macadamia, brazil and pine nuts) in addition to dairy, soy, eggs, sesame and dust-mites.
I don’t know what scared me the most about that diagnosis – whether it was the fact some of these allergies were life-threateningly severe or the fact that random foods COULD POTENTIALLY KILL MY CHILD (the same I know but sadly different).
Yes I have to admit –a shot of fear entered my heart that day and it has never really gone away, all these years later because some of these allergies do have the power to end a child’s life.
The specialists promised me there was a good chance Jake would outgrow most of his allergies by the time he was age 7…but we reached seven without any of his allergies getting better (except soy – we lost the soy one, yippee!).
Every new skin prick test would leave the most magnificent welts on his arm, spilling outside the stamped square.
We tested again at age 9 and then at age 10 and thus far there have been no improvements so it is safe to say I will be an allergy-mom for some years to come…probably forever!
But I promise you I am not one of those crazy moms, who panics about everything and anything food-related. To the contrary I have developed a very healthy acceptance of his allergies and we have learned to live with it, without it impacting our life in any negative way.
Here are the most important things I have learned along the way:
1 ALWAYS HAVE YOUR ANTI-HISTAMINES AND EPIPEN WITH YOU
I note this first because this is the one (and most important) thing that has given me peace of mind over the years. As long as Jake has his red first aid bag with him (including his antihistamines in either liquid or tablet form and an Epipen (ideally two) I feel safe.
(Note: this bag is really just a camera bag I had at the time that seemed perfect for storing his medication – ten years later we are still using it.)
It gives me peace of mind because I know that if he has an emergency reaction, we can deal with it. I also keep more antihistamines at home (in a cupboard where everyone knows where it is), at my parent’s place and in my car (in the pull-out section under my car-seat).
I know, I know, that might sound over-the-top but hey, it alleviates all my worries and that is worth its weight in gold.
Plus of course I am human – over the years there have been multiple times I have left his first aid bag hanging on the end of the banister and consequently not been able to relax during the whole outing.
Hence the reason I keep an emergency backup in the car – if you choose to do the same, just make sure to check regularly that the medication hasn’t expired.
2 FOCUS FIRST ON WHAT YOUR CHILD CAN STILL EAT
As I mentioned earlier, Jake is allergic to all nuts, dairy, eggs and sesame. At the time of his diagnosis I was still breastfeeding which meant that I too had to cut all these foods from my diet. Well that probably sounds a lot easier than it was.
I remember scraping together a rough meal for myself that night (avocado and bacon on rice cakes) while I struggled to think of what I could eat from hereon.
No cheeses, no creamy sauces, no chocolate, no scrambled eggs – no lots of things I loved.
I immediately banned nuts from the house and only allowed my daughter to have egg while she was visiting her grandparents (this was in the early days when the mere thought of having those danger foods near my child scared the living daylights out of me).
One of the first things I remember doing post-diagnosis (once I got my composure back) was working out what he (and I while breastfeeding) could still eat.
Our list included foods like:
Most lollies (obviously that was for me to replace the chocolate!).
Seeing this list immediately snapped me out of my scarcity thinking to an attitude of “cool, we can still have all this healthy stuff!) It helps to know what healthy foods you CAN still fill your child’s diet with.
3 RESEARCH SUITABLE FOOD SUBSTITUTES
I soon discovered those that there were lots of great food substitutes available to replace some of the items Jake could no longer have. Jake drank rice milk instead of cow’s milk when he was finally weaned.
We used Nuttelex (a dairy-free margarine) in the place of butter. We found an egg-replacement powder in the health food shop for baking. I soon discovered that I could also replicate a lot of normal cake recipes by using these substitutes for egg, butter and milk.
Of course my grocery shopping now took twice as long to do because I had to read all the labels. But oh the joy when I would discover an item that was free from egg, dairy, sesame and nuts!
I soon had my list of go-to items and brands that I referred to every week when shopping (here in Australia that included sweets like Oreos and Arnott’s Nice biscuits and lots of savoury snacks from Aldi – who are still amazing for my allergy-kid!)
4 ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP
Obviously one of the things that my son doesn’t particularly enjoy about his allergies is not being able to eat treat foods when his friends do (for example at parties).
For that reason I always make sure to double check with parents prior to any party or event what they are planning to do and I aim to provide the same stuff or as close to it for Jake to take with him (thankfully I now know where to buy allergy-friendly meat pies, sausage rolls, chips, popcorn – you name it, I will work hard to find a replacement and provide it for Jake on the day!).
If there is no way I can bring a replacement, I just feed Jake well beforehand so that he doesn’t go to the event starving. Food is really just fuel to keep the kids going and you will notice that usually the eating part of things (when kids are involved) is over before you know it.
Even still, I will always make sure to bring snacks with me “just in case” because it isn’t so easy to feed a kid who has allergies on a whim so best to be prepared.
As for the cake and sweet part of things – this is the stuff the kids don’t like to miss out on but they usually do as a result of their allergies. I just make sure to bring a separate allergy-friendly treat for Jake – something he doesn’t usually have often so it feels special to him to have it.
5 THE OTHER STUFF
I could go on and on about all the things I have learned over the years but for the sake of succinctness here is a summary of all my other golden nuggets of information.
Make sure to inform whoever is minding your child about their allergies.
Don’t assume they know! Show them where their medication is in case of an emergency (place it in an obvious, easy to find spot).
Teach your child and the carer how to use an Epipen if they don’t know. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Make sure your child knows NEVER ever to accept food from anyone unless they have double checked first to see if the food contains one of their allergens. When in doubt they should not eat it.
Also make sure your child know that they need to ask an adult, not the child (Jake made this mistake once when he was young – the other child said it was okay to eat but it wasn’t – thankfully we caught the error in time).
When going out to restaurants with groups, make sure to call and speak to the chef in advance about the food options for your child.
This way you know whether your child can eat anything from the menu and if so, what food they can have. I find it helps telling Jake his only options are this or that (sometimes there is only one option though!) and when there is no option at all, I bring along his own food (informing the restaurant that this is because they didn’t have any meals that were suitable for him).
For the most part there is always at least one option and over the years our friends have worked out what places are best for Jake to eat so they are usually accommodating.
Make a hand sanitizer your best friend.
I always bring a bottle with me whenever we go away camping or on trips because there may be times when other people eat food that your child is allergic to (I do sometimes worry about the nuts and therefore request that people could please refrain from eating them near Jake but I understand people are entitled to eat what they like. If they drink milk or have eggs I just always make sure I have his first aid bag in case of an emergency. I also always request that friends please disinfect or wash their hands afterwards for safety’s sake. As a backup I also keep baby wipes in the car for cleaning hands.
All in all, I have tried to teach my child that he can’t control what other people eat but he does need to watch what he eats.
If others are eating stuff he can’t eat I don’t want him to have a complex about being left out. I will always provide him with alternatives and when we go out for the day, he now knows exactly what he can and can’t eat.
Thankfully we have a few tried and go-to options while out at the shops like sushi rolls with salmon, hot chips at most places and even plain hamburgers from McDonalds (not the healthiest option I know but still he can have them!)
With allergies you simply have to learn to work with what you have got, be grateful for your good health and learn to jump any hurdles as they come your way.
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