Saturday, August 16, 2008

Don't kill the allergy mom

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The Allergy Mom. You know her, the one who goes on about deadly foods (everything your child likes to eat) as she politely hands you a list of “safe” snacks (nothing he’ll go near).

Once she’s out of earshot, the other parents huddle and express outrage. “But all my kid eats is peanut butter!” “What am I supposed to send for lunch?” “What nerve! Can her kid’s allergy be that serious?”

Yes, it can.
Food allergies can kill. And sometimes they do.
Sometimes at school.

Be thankful you’re not an allergy mom.

When Smartypants was a toddler, I mixed up a nutritious batch of hummus for him. He loved my homemade blend of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste) and garlic. I beamed as he gobbled my creation. Then he got tired, started rubbing his eyes and fussing. I figured he’d had a long day and he was telling me he was ready for bed.

Wrong. He was telling me he was in distress.

When I wiped off the hummus that coated his fingers, arms, hands and face, I saw he was bright red. He had a rash on every inch of skin the hummus touched. Hives erupted before my eyes. Fortunately, my cousin had advised us to keep a bottle of Benadryl in the kitchen, so DH grabbed the nearby bottle while I phoned the pediatrician.We gave our young son the medicine and sat watching him, studying the dynamic 3-D show on his skin, dutifully tracking his breathing, the ever-changing hives and his vital functions. And trying not to show how completely freaked out we were.

So, yes, I’m an Allergy Mom.

Thankfully, we were spared a trip to the ER, but that night we were introduced to a whole new set of parenting worries. Allergy testing indicated a potentially life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis) to sesame. Although not among the top 8 allergens, it does make the top 20 (see below).

Even though sesame is not as ubiquitous as peanuts, it’s out there. Sesame seeds top bagels, loaves of bread and pretzels. It’s a common ingredient in Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Mediterranean foods (falafel, hummus, etc.). Those potentially deadly seeds lurk quietly in many snacks “party mixes” and containers of bread crumbs.

Allergy Moms ask questions. We read labels. Always.

Now that Smartypants is older, he takes more responsibility for himself (I still give a heads-up to his teachers- I’ll get into more detail about this later in this food allergy series). But when he was in preschool, I was the Allergy Mom who handed out the “safe” snack list. A list compiled after a long night at the grocery store, examining the fine print and ingredients list on almost every product label in the snack/cracker aisle.

Most of the parents took care to stick with the list or call me if they wanted to bring an unapproved item. Some even insisted I read the product label myself before giving the green light. Their concern meant a lot to me. It’s scary enough sending your child out into the Big World. When that child has serious food allergies that maternal fear inches up a notch or five.

So please be patient; hold back your snarky comments and give the Allergy Mom a break. She’s depending on you to help keep her kid safe.

For more information on food allergies:Illinois Food Allergy Education Association Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) Mothers of Children Having Allergies (MOCHA) Also, here’s a great piece, "Food for Thought," by my friend Adrienne Martini. (Okay, we don’t know each other that well, but she let me eat all her frites while she was doing a reading at HopLeaf last winter.) Adrienne is also the author of Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood. And you thought your postpartum depression was bad.

Top 8 food allergens:





Tree nuts




Cross-posted from my food blog, Scrambled CAKE, where it was published 2007.


Kimberleigh said...

Thanks for this post. I learned a lot. We don't experience food allergies in my family so I had no idea. Good to know for the future!

Karen said...

My niece has life-threatening nut allergies, as do many of my friend's children. It is very hard for all of them . . .glad you're educating people. It's a tough balancing act for both the parents of allergic and non-allergic kids when they're together. Truly, the only way to handle the situation is with open communication both ways--and it sounds like you do just that. Bravo.

Mary said...

Great, informative post. I have food allergies myself (wheat and milk). Though they're not life-threatening, just a runny nose and fatigue, I'm always on the lookout for symptoms in my kids.

Adventures In Babywearing said...

I am an allergy mom. My middle son thankfully grew out of his nut allergy, but my youngest is allergic to dairy, eggs, & nuts. We're used to living by special diets, but that also means we ask lots & lots of questions...


Rebecca said...

I grew up with a shellfish allergy, it's not much of a big deal in school. It unfortunately becomes a pretty big deal as an adult, I mean everyone loves shellfish right? (wrong!) So it lurks in dips and on the party trays and in the food at dinner parties. I tend to stick to the cheese and fruit on the party trays, and ask in a tone that says, "I need the recipe for this delicious feast!" what is in whatever I am eating at a dinner party.

As a result of my food allergy, it is my understanding that my children have a higher likelihood of ALSO having a food allergy. My oldest is allergic to shellfish, and we tend to watch my youngest VERY closely when it comes to the big allergens.

9ndhouse- Katie S. said...

Thanks! Your sooo right about not being mean! It's not fun to watch your child get so sick from something that could have been prevented. My Mom didn't believe that my oldest daughter was allergic to food coloring, she thought I was just being mean and refusing the poor child her kool-aid. Then Mom got to sit with her half the night while hives danced across her skin and she threw up continuously, she believed me. We don't live near my parents and I know she was just trying to be a good "MEMA", over excited about our visit and all. I'm sure it isn't easy to have your whole "kid friendly" meal of hot dogs, mac and cheese and kool-aid dumped in the trash, but who wants a trip to ER? So now when we say our other daughter is lactose intolerant, my family pays attention and is even reading labels!! Sorry to blow steam here!! Great Post!!!! Mother of 7

Kim Moldofsky said...

Kimberleigh- I love to help enlighten. Thanks!

Karen- I'm glad you are sympathetic. Too many "nonallergy" moms get defensive about this unfortuantely.

Mary- interesting point about food sensitivities. Many people react in non-life threatening, but still important ways that should be avoided. I think about lactose intolerance and sensitivities to food dyes and preservatives.

Steph- I hope your younger one outgrows his allergies, too. I'm sure you cook a lot of your own food. And yes, ask a lot of questions.

Rebecca- I love your, "Wow, can you tell me about this recipe?" tact. So polite!

Katie- thanks for stopping by! Sorry about the misunderstanding with your mom. I guess she believes you now! It seems like food allergies are a relatively new thing. Sadly, our own parents don't always "get it."

Jodi said...

Kim - this is a great post. My son is allergic to peas (of all things!) and my nephew is allergic to almost everything imaginable. I really hope our kids grow out of these allergies, but I know many don't.

Kathleen said...

How Ironic! My five year old daughter has severe food allergies. One being sesame. It is very serious. My daughter was also introduced to homade hummus when she was younger. She was coughing as if something was in her throat and hives all over her body. The joy of her eating something I made turned into pure fright.
About the peanut allergy at school. What a discrace I have experienced with parents that talk behind my back and say all the terrible things you mentioned . You would think they would have compation being a parent themselves. No. I am called the norotic mom. All I want to do is keep her safe.