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4 Things I Didn’t Know That Could Have Killed My Child

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.

RELATED: 4 Things Food Allergy Moms Want You to Know

2. Symptoms of a food allergen reaction vary widely

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

My 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 pictured.

I 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.

RELATED: Food Allergies Moms vs. From Scratch Moms

4. When your child has a food allergy, you have to think differently, all the time

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. 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.

May is Food Allergy Action Month. Learn what you need to know in order to keep your child safe.

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Image via Twenty20/JenLPalmer

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