I consider myself a food allergy mom. My oldest child (now 6.5) spent her preschool life being allergic to eggs and shellfish. I have gotten pretty used to my daughter’s epinephrine auto-injector never leaving my side. Last week we celebrated how much smaller her list of current food allergies is becoming after she successfully completing another food challenge at our local children’s hospital.
Did you know, according the CDC, there is an 18% increase in food allergies among children from 1997 to 2007 in the US?
According to the Academy of American Pediatrics, 8% of US children have food allergies. A food allergy can cause a range of symptoms, including mild gastrointestinal symptoms, skin rashes or more severe reactions like anaphylaxis. Food allergies can often be confused with food intolerances. Food intolerances can be an abnormal reaction to food that causes illness, but involves distinctly different biological responses. Research has identified risk factors and potential methods to increase the prevention of food allergies, but the clear reasons for the growing rate of food allergies has not yet been fully determined.
My story as a food allergy mom is just my story, but it gives me so much compassion for the many food allergy parents and caregivers who are fighting so hard for their children’s safety at home, at school and out in the world.
Last week we went into the hospital for another food allergy challenge for my oldest daughter. I was thrilled to see her pass another food challenge. A food challenge happens after our child passes other tests (blood tests and pricks) that show she is ready to eat a food without a potential reaction. The food challenge is carried out in a safe setting where doctors and nurses watch your child eat measured amounts of a food and are prepared with epinephrine auto-injector and additional tools should your child have a reaction.
Each time my daughter has an appointment, I am beyond amazed at the bravery of my little girl. This time she passed her food challenge, which means she is no longer considered to be allergic to mollusks (one of the members of the shellfish family). I am thrilled our list of food allergies is shrinking, but they might never fully disappear.
I wanted to share with you a few things I’ve learned from being a food allergy mom.
🍓 My judgment about how to keep my food allergy child safe is different than another food allergy parent. I always recommend asking the parents you encounter what works for them and their child. I try to respect and support each parents boundaries and learn from them without placing judgement. We are all doing the best we can to ensure our children can live and thrive.
🍓 It can be easy to make a mistake, but at times these mistakes can have big consequences. Shortly after learning about my daughter’s egg allergy, I planned her 1st birthday party and forgot to consider the eggs in the cupcakes. She blew out her first candle, ate her first cupcake, and shortly after she started getting hives. Thankfully it was a mild reaction that could be treated, but as a parent who’s sole purpose was keeping my child safe…it felt pretty terrifying. Before her second birthday, I once ordered my daughter a grilled cheese at a restaurant. I never considered that it would be cooked on the same grill where lobster was being prepared. A mild reaction occurred and I realized I needed to start asking more questions to keep her safe.
🍓 We must advocate for our children’s safety and understand each environments safety protocols as our children’s lives depend on it.
🍓 Food allergy children are resilient. They learn to be different from a young age and they often become pretty comfortable with being poked, proded and at times itchy. Our daughter had to accept at young age that her allergies limit her ability to join in for special celebrations. She became comfortable often having special snacks at school. Birthday parties created a bit of anxiety, as a mother fearful of the reaction I might receive from my preschooler as I try to convince her that the special treat in my purse was just as exciting as what all the other kids were enjoying. She has learned to be okay with being different and I believe this is a tool that will equip her for a lifetime.
🍓 Food allergy parents often need to be incredibly organized. The parents I have encountered have to be many steps ahead of teachers, caregivers, camp counselors, and others parents when it comes to playdates, parties, and activities inside and outside school. Details that most would not consider can create an opportunity for exposure. I am familiar with moments when extensive planning did not prevent the worst-case scenario, so all of this planning is necessary.
🍓 Food allergens can be hiding in places you never imagined. It is important to read labels, ask questions and do your homework.
Are you curious about the latest research or guildelines on food allergy prevention?
The Academy of American Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding if possible for the first 4 months, and evidence that delayed introduction of common food allergens leads to a reduction in the incidence of food allergies is inconclusive. The guidelines recommend parents do not restrict common food allergens for children when they begin solids in the 4 to 6 month time period if there is not a history of allergic reactions.
These are the mussels from our food allergy challenge. I was surprised to see our oldest enjoyed this family favorite food after her first try and I can’t wait to add it into our rotation. Mussels are a great source of protein, minerals, vitamin B12, and can help a child meet most of their omega-3 requirements for the day. One of the keys to maintaining and growing a healthy brain is adequate omega-3 intake.