No parent would wish food allergies upon their child, yet every day almost six million children under the age of 18 live with food allergies.
My own son, who is currently 4-years-old, has a peanut allergy. I used to be one of those parents who thought people made up how bad allergies could be. And this is after having an older son who was allergic to dairy, soy, and all meat. Yes, meat. But he was little — still not potty trained — and he would experience a day’s worth of GI problems and be OK. I didn’t understand the severity many allergens can have on millions of children.
There are eight major food allergens according to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) — milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. They make up most of the serious food allergies in the United States. FARE identifies over 170 different foods that are reported to cause allergic reactions.
Two days shy of his first birthday, I gave my son James a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because the medical professionals at the time told parents that turning 1 was the magic age to try peanut products. Within 30 minutes he was vomiting and his skin was the color of a tomato and hot to the touch. I knew immediately it was from the peanut butter. Thankfully I thought fast, he was taken care of, and we were able to get a lot of allergy testing done.
But even now, several years later, every day can be filled with fear. I carry Epi-pens with me everywhere we go and I have them stashed in the house. Every teacher, VBS volunteer, and babysitter is briefed on how to use an Epi-pen with the fake trainer pen they give you.
“Jab it in,” I tell them. “Don’t be afraid of hurting him. He could die. The pinch means nothing.”
Thankfully we’ve never had to use the Epi-pen on him, but everyone tells me it’s not if you use it — but when you use it. Forty percent of food allergic children have a severe reaction. That’s 2,360,000 children in the United States.
Dropping him off at school or church can be scary. Are the snacks nut-free? And even if they are, I have to worry about if little Katelyn ate peanut butter at home and has it on her hands. If she touches something, then my son touches it, will he react? He might. What if she kisses him as preschoolers are prone to do? He would definitely react. These are worries allergy parents deal with every day.
The other option is to keep him home at all times and basically put him in a bubble. But that’s not living. And he has to learn to keep himself safe. He already knows to ask before eating anything, “Does this have peanuts in it? I’m very allergic.” It’s a start to his self-awareness and ability to protect himself.
Children with food allergies are just like every other child. They want to run and play. They want to eat fistfuls of cake and hug their friends. And every allergy parent I know says they would go through fire to make sure that their child has every possibility as other children.
And parents want all that for their children. Whether they’re allergic to peanuts, wheat, eggs, or latex, we all want our kids to be as normal as possible. And we hope everyone else will help us help them.
TALK TO ALLISON
Allison Wells is a mom of four and wife of one. She's a writer, unpublished (for now) novelist, and creator of Clemson Area Moms on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @OrangeAllison.