Coping with Food Allergies

My older son has a peanut allergy. I used to think food allergies were imaginary, truly I did.

We learned about my kiddo’s allergy when he broke out in alarming, angry hives while eating some peanut butter yogurt. He’d been eating peanut butter for a few months when his body finally realized, “Hey! I don’t like this very much!” A visit to the pediatrician and a trip to the phlebotomist later, and we found ourselves with a new normal: carry Benadryl and an Epi Pen at all times and READ ALL FOOD LABELS!!no peanuts allowed

Peanuts sneak their way into everything, even loaves of bread. They are sprinkled atop desserts and Chinese take-out. Heck, I have to call ahead to Lenten fish frys to see if they use peanut oil or canola. And we all know how curious, crawling babies can find things on the floor or the ground–several times, I’ve had to quickly scoop up peanuts and shells from playground mulch or waiting room floors before my quick crawler could explore.

Thankfully, we only had one or two brief exposures to peanuts when he was a very little dude and now that he’s 3.5, he tells me he’s a grown-up now so I don’t have to worry about him. We’ve grown accustomed to reading labels, packing treats when we go to birthday parties just in case the host serves peanut butter icing, and watching like hawks on candy holidays. (Ask me how I feel about Halloween sometime…though Easter and Valentine’s Day are just as bad)

My grandmother has this lovely habit of gifting everyone a Reese’s peanut butter egg with a $5 bill taped to the bottom. It’s really very sweet, but I am always fearful she’ll forget herself, hand one to my son, and he’ll tear into it because he doesn’t know any better. Alas.

I hoped my younger son would avoid food allergies, just so his life would be that much easier, but it seems like my wee baby has it worse than his older brother. He’s broken out into hives three times already in his ten months. He gets sort of rashy hives from strawberries and tomatoes, but nothing our pediatrician was concerned about.

The other day, however, he was eating some hummus and swelled up like a balloon. His entire body was covered in hives. So many hives! They were even on his eyelids and toes. We spent 36 hours on watch, giving him regular doses of Benadryl and keeping his brother’s Epi Pen ready.

We haven’t met with the allergest yet, but our pediatrician suspects a sesame allergy, which he says is quite common. This is rather unfortunate, because sesame seems to be in even more places than peanuts.

Greek food, Thai food, Japanese food, granola bars, bagels, many hamburger buns…sesame seeds find their way onto all of the things I keep in my pantry.

I’m so sad that both my sons have intense food allergies and I’m frustrated with all the label reading I have to do to keep them safe while they are young. I’m sad for the dining experiences they’ll miss out on and the lifetime of asking about ingredients before they can accept a dinner invitation. It just makes me feel lousy to tell a party host we can’t eat plates of food so lovingly prepared.

There was recently a wonderful article in the New York Times about a food allergy specialist who seems to be able to “cure” many kids with extreme allergies. Unfortunately, the closest clinical trials for food allergies are about 5 hours’ drive away from us. Our kids can’t enroll.

So, for the next few years, until they can read labels and ask questions themselves, I’m that nervous parent hovering around class parties, double-checking preschool snacks, and reminding staff to never, ever let my son swipe food from his neighbor’s lunch box. I have phone alerts to remind when it’s time to renew Epi Pen prescriptions and I have these pens stashed all over my house, my car, my bags. This tense watchfulness is part of my parenting, something that never really allows me to let down my guard.

I cling to hope that the kids will either outgrow their allergies (although I haven’t been brave enough to sign my older guy up for a peanut test yet) or that a clinical trial will come to one of the many universities here in Pittsburgh. I’ll be the first to enroll!

Do any of your children have food allergies? How do you cope? Leave a comment to share your experiences. 

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