Learning your child has a
food allergy is a life-altering event. It is impossible to understand the far-reaching
impact until you face it. I've had to learn a great deal since we discovered
our child has a food allergy.
And what I did not know? Could
have killed her before we even realized she had the allergy.
1. Almost any food is a potential allergen
I was aware of the most common
food allergens. I didn't think there were that many. Eight
foods account for nine out of 10 reactions in the U.S. They are milk,
eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. But there are more
than 170 foods known to cause food allergies.
My daughter is allergic to
strawberries. I had never heard of anyone being allergic to them before she was
diagnosed. I was not concerned about giving them to her. I was concerned—and
vividly remember—the first time I fed her foods that are well known to cause
allergic reactions. But strawberries were not on my radar.
2. Symptoms of a food allergen reaction vary
My husband had actually suspected
for some time our daughter was allergic to strawberries. He noted whenever she
ate them her eyes would water, her nose would run and she would sneeze. I saw
it, too, but did not associate those symptoms with food allergies. I thought
they only occurred with airborne allergens and assumed she was reacting to some
sort of pollen outside. So I kept feeding her strawberries, because she loves
them. One night, after consuming a large bowl, her lips and her entire face
swelled up into one huge, red rash.
The truth is, I'm still not 100 percent confident that I truly understand all the different ways my child could potentially be exposed to her food allergen.
She did not go in to anaphylactic shock, thankfully. We gave her a dose of Benadryl and
watched her closely. (Another error? I now know the best course of action is
to administer epinephrine immediately and get to the emergency room.)
It was then I learned the wide range of
symptoms that can occur, from mild to severe. And that once the allergy exists,
there is no way to predict what kind of reaction will occur. Past reactions do
not determine future reactions. Allergic reactions are unpredictable. How severe the
reaction is, and which symptoms a person will have, can change from one
reaction to the next. Any exposure has the potential to be
fatal. That is what her doctor told us after she underwent extensive allergy
testing, as he handed me the prescription for epinephrine auto-injectors and a
pamphlet on food allergies.
3. There are many ways my child can be exposed
daughter can be around strawberries; she just can't ingest them. So I was not
overly concerned about her being exposed while at school. I provided the office
with epinephrine auto-injectors and an Emergency Care Plan. I also made sure
her teacher knew so she could screen any classroom treats. I did not take into
account the fact someone might try to force my
child to eat the food she was allergic to. That was a scenario I had not
learned about cross contact when I bought my child a chocolate milkshake as a
reward after a difficult
doctor's appointment. Within minutes of taking a sip, she had the same
reaction we'd experienced in our kitchen after she consumed the bowl of
strawberries. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the restaurant made strawberry
milkshakes on the same machine as the chocolate. I hadn't thought about that. After
all, I wasn't buying her a strawberry milkshake.
4. When your child has a food
allergy, you have to think differently, all the time
truth is, I'm still not 100 percent confident that I truly understand all the different
ways my child could potentially be exposed to her food allergen. At first, I
thought avoiding strawberries would be easy. But it wasn't long before I
realized the wide variety of products that pose a danger and started working toward becoming an expert label reader. Since strawberries are not considered a major
food allergen, and there is a movement to flavor food and food products naturally
instead of artificially, I have to be extremely vigilant.