Back in 2008 I had begun to notice that my two month old son was always miserable. While all of my children prior to him had been known to spit up after feeding, my son’s was terrible. It was after every meal and a lot of it. Then he began to develop eczema and breathing issues, and at two months old he was diagnosed with asthma. Fast forward seven more months and he was still as miserable. And by now his entire body was covered in eczema, which was bloodied and infected due to him scratching it.
My son was breastfed and had only begun at age nine months old eating baby food, which he was not particularly fond of. The allergist had tested him and he tested positive to egg, dairy, and peanut food. The egg and dairy were moderate, but the peanut allergy was life threatening. He was required to have an epi-pen at all times with him. At that point we did a major overhaul of our house to rid it of all peanut products. Due to the advice of our allergist at the time, we also have avoided tree nuts and shellfish his entire life. While peanuts are legumes and are not botanically related to tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.). However, about 35% of peanut-allergic toddlers in the U.S. have or will develop a tree nut allergy. Because I was breastfeeding I stopped eating all dairy and egg products (which was a good diet for me).
So we began the life as parents of a child with food allergies. Prior to his diagnosis I had never given much thought to those who had to live with food allergies. Now our life was consumed with it. Every particle of food in our house required us to read the labels to make sure there was no cross contamination or any unsafe ingredients for our son. My son’s allergies affected every part of our lives. If somebody at church eaten a peanut butter sandwich before coming then wanted to hold our son we had to tell them no. No kisses from Grandma who had just eaten a Reece’s peanut butter cup. Going out to eat was a time consuming process, as well as time spent calling the restaurant and scouring the menu beforehand. It meant spending anxious moments at the playground or at playgroups when he put his fingers in his mouth, afraid he was somehow going to pick up the peanut protein.
However, it is not just food. According to peanutallergy.com the following list gives examples on other products that contain peanut or peanut oil…
“Peanut shells or skins may be found in any of the following:
- Artificial fireplace logs
- Fiber roughage for livestock feed
- Kitty litter
- Paper: wrapping, decorative, scrapbook and wallpaper
- Stuffing for beanbags, stuffed animals, neck pillows and hacky sacks
- Pet bedding for hamsters, rodents and birds
- Wallboard and other construction materials
- Potting soil, mulches
- Rodent and ant bait
Peanuts or peanut oil may be found in the following:
- Axle grease
- Bird seed
- Cosmetics, especially lipstick
- Face creams, under-eye creams, body lotions, hand lotions
- Fertilizers for the lawn, compost accelerators
- Medicines (be sure to talk to your pharmacist about prescription and over-the-counter drug) contents
- Metal polish
- Pet food: cat and dog, hamster and gerbil, birdseed, also dog and cat treats
- Paint: art, craft and some house paints
- Shampoo and hair conditioners
- Shaving cream
- Soap: bar and liquid; face, body and hand”
We have learned how to read ingredient labels and call companies to inquire about the safety of their food, handling, and cleaning practices. When it doubt, we do not take chances with our son. Ever. His life is too precious to even consider it.
He is now in 3rd grade and one of his best friends has the same food allergy. Each grade they are in has accommodated us by making the grade “peanut-free” for that year. They each sit at the peanut-free table together and have since kindergarten. Peanut butter sandwiches and sticky fingers go together, but as parents we have taken every precaution to ensure their safety as much as possible. Of course, there is no guarantee.
Class parties have had to be carefully planned as well as anytime there is food in the classroom. As his mother these moments can be absolutely terrifying knowing I have to trust somebody else to feed my child safely. When one bite of the wrong food could send him into anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that needs to treated right away. It is a reaction after the exposure to the allergen, such as peanuts, and it is life threatening. The flood of chemicals from the immune system causes the body to to into shock, causing the airway to narrow and blood pressure to drop. There are a variety of signs and symptoms that go along with this, too. Dizziness, problems breathing, itchy tongue, vomiting, skin rash, and so on. This requires a shot of epinephrine, which is where the epi-pen comes in, followed by a trip to the nearest emergency room.
Thankfully, we have had much support in the past eight years we have dealt with this and my son. It is now our lifestyle. I cannot tell you the last time I had a peanut butter sandwich, which were my favorites before. We have a narrow list of ‘safe’ places to eat and always have a back up plan for our son. Church potlucks and family reunions are nerve-wracking only because we cannot control what food is brought in. We typically bring food from home for our son so he has a safe alternative. In school, he always has Oreo’s at school for those days when they celebrate a classmate’s birthday and he cannot eat the cupcake.
We have a lot of faith in our son’s allergist and his recommendations on what we can do and should not do. We are aware of the latest advances in science on the peanut allergy front. We are closely following some studies and just waiting to see what the F.D.A. approves for allergy sufferers.
Until then just be aware of others and food allergies. They can be life-threatening and seem overwhelming, but a little education and compassion can go a long way.