Taking the Fear out of Food Allergies

Local couple shares their journey to managing their child’s food allergy

AllergiesIn an effort to keep your child healthy, the immune system is continually fighting off infections. When your child's immune system senses that a food or something in a food is a "danger" to your child's health, a food allergy reaction occurs. This can cause hives, asthma, itching in the mouth, trouble breathing, stomach pains, vomiting, or diarrhea. It does not take much of the food to cause a severe reaction in highly allergic children.

The most common food allergies are caused by these foods:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Although most children “outgrow” their allergies, some food allergies may last a lifetime. As a parent it’s important to be prepared.

St. Joseph residents, Mallory and Mike Getty were first introduced to their son’s food allergy when he was around 18 months old after he accidentally squirted a bottle of mustard in his face and broke out into hives. At the time, they treated the reaction with Benadryl, but didn’t understand what it meant for their family until a couple months later.

Around 20 months, the couple learned what anaphylaxis was. Their son tried hummus for the first time (a main ingredient in hummus is “tahini,” also known as “sesame oil”). About 15 minutes later, he began vomiting forcefully and developed a very runny nose and eyes. The couple assumed the runny nose was simply due to crying and did not recognize it as a sign of anaphylaxis.

“After a few hours he stopped vomiting and we thought it was just a stomach bug,” said Mallory. “It wasn’t until we tried to put him to bed for the night that we heard his breathing had become a terrible wheezing. It was then that we jumped in the car and raced to the hospital.”

As a result of these scary turns of events, Mike and Mallory learned their son was one in 13 children in the United States who suffers from a food allergy, his caused by sesame, mustard, and tree nuts. It was a continuous learning process for the Gettys; in the years that followed, they discovered some valuable tips for managing their son’s allergies, such as:

  • If the child is old enough to “self-carry” their EpiPens, they should.
  • Always carry extra EpiPens.
  • Teach your child not to fear the EpiPen.
  • Hand sanitizer does NOT remove food protein.
  • Antiseptic wipes go everywhere, not just to clean eating surfaces but to clean hands. (Food allergens are not limited to food. Nut and sesame oils are commonly used in soaps, detergents, and lotions.)
  • Pack food and snacks from home for public outings or carry a food allergy card to give to your server before you order food for your child.
  • Go to school/daycare/babysitter and observe. As a food allergy parent you will recognize risks that staff may not know to identify. You can educate them while working together on solutions to the problem.

“Teach your child the things you do to keep them safe as early as you can,” said Mallory. “It’s natural to want to shelter them from the burden as long as possible because you know it’s one they will have to carry their whole life. The earlier you start, the better engrained the safety habits will be for them and the more prepared and secure they will feel.”

Creating a Safer, Happier Halloween

The Food Allergy Research & Education’s Teal Pumpkin Project helps ensure all children come home on Halloween night with something they can enjoy. Take part this year by placing a teal pumpkin in front of your home to let trick-or-treaters know you’re offering non-food treats. Learn more at www.foodallergy.org

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