Living with Allergies: One Mom’s PSA.

I am a mom of a child with life-threatening allergies.

We discovered this the hard way a few years ago, on a gorgeous Sunday evening in April. We were on our neighbors porch, sipping cocktails, and Owen had a cashew for the first time. Until that point, his only diagnosed allergy was egg (both the whites and yolks). We had him tested for peanuts, which was negative. He had peanut butter a lot. He loved his dad’s blueberry almond cereal.

I watched him pop the cashew in his mouth, noting it, assessing. But no big deal – he was fine with peanuts.

Within moments he wasn’t right. And over the next ten minutes – the longest and most panicked ten minutes of my life – when he was crying he couldn’t breathe out of his nose or hear out of his ears, and his voice was getting all garbly, and the rash was all over, I was panicking and wondering, Where the hell is that extra epi pen the allergist made us get for him?

I called the pediatrician’s office, and my best friend, who has life threatening allergies of her own. I explained the situation, and she told me I wasn’t overreacting, that I should use the epi pen and take him to the ER.

I had no idea where it was.

I am certain I lost years off my life the moment the nurse at the pediatrician’s office told me to hang up the phone and call 911 because I didn’t have the epi pen handy. I am incredibly thankful that we not only live a quarter mile away from a hospital with an emergency room, but that they recognized how sick he was that night we brought him there. Within seconds of walking into the emergency room, he was surrounded by medical professionals who saved his life.

We are so very lucky.

There are lots of other kids who aren’t that lucky.

Ever since that night, I’ve spent a lot of time balancing my need to advocate to keep him safe whenever he goes somewhere where there is food served… and teaching him to be an advocate for himself.

So when I read articles like this one or this one, I can’t help the emotion that rises up in me.

There is no reason, in this day and age, that a child should die from an allergic reaction.

I love the research that’s being done in the yahoo article. I do think that, on a macro level, the prevalence of antibiotic everything – hand sanitizer, soap, wipes, etc – could, biologically speaking, foster allergies. If your body has no bacteria to fight, it’ll fight whatever it can get. I’ve seen first hand with my own son how antibiotics can really screw up his immune system. When he was 18 months old, he had three bouts of  what his pediatrician thought was pneumonia, so he was on antibiotics for most of the time between Halloween and New Years. And the poor child caught EVERY COLD. He could not get well, no matter what we did, until he was done with the antibiotics.

I also love the parents and schoolteachers and camp directors and myriad other people are focused on trying to make mealtimes, where there are a bunch of kids, more safe. Owen’s daycare was nut free. His elementary school is “nut-sensitive” – that is, they do not use nuts in any of the meals served in the cafeteria. He sits at a nut-free table every day at lunch. His teacher has told parents that if their child has something with nuts in it, they are not allowed to eat it in the classroom. The school nurse called me last year when he took a cheez-it offered to him by another student.

BUT.

The focus on nut-free environments means this: we rely on it. We, as allergy parents, think that because we documented the allergy as part of the camp registration and made sure the nurse has an epi pen, our son or daughter is automatically safe.

That’s not how it works, not always. Accidents happen. People who do not have allergies often just aren’t aware that something they eat all the time might hurt your kid. (Hell, my best friend – with life threatening allergies of her own – writes a post it when Owen stays with them, reminding herself that he is allergic to eggs… and I have cooked and shared food with her that could kill her – and we are both very aware!)

So if you are a parent of a child with allergies, you can’t just rely on others to keep your child safe.

If your child is showing signs of an allergic reaction from food they have eaten or an insect sting, you need to call 911 and use an epi pen.

Most kids with allergies KNOW that they ate something wrong – both the children in the articles above knew. But just in case? Talk to your child what an allergic reaction feels like. Have them practice using the epi pen themselves. (Owen has practiced with the trainer, even though he’s only 6 and there’s no way in hell I’d let him use the epi pen on his own right now. But he’s got to learn, in case some day I am not there.)

If your son or daughter is showing signs of an allergic reaction? Don’t bother with benadryl. If you’re lucky like me and have a hospital with an emergency room a quarter mile away, use the epi pen and then take your child there right away.

If you’re not close, call 911. Why? Because the epi pen is a temporary fix – it will only buy you time to get to a hospital. The allergic reaction might come back within a few minutes – 10, maybe 15 – and having paramedics there means that, if it happens, they can intubate your child and make sure they’re getting oxygen if throat is closing.

And for the love that is holy, if your child has a documented allergy, PLEASE spend the money and get them an epi pen. Yes, it means you have to get one every year, when they expire. Yes, it’s not cheap. (In fact, maybe we need to advocate for free epi pens for children instead of nut free schools?) But you never know if or when you need it.

In this day and age, children should not die from an allergic reaction.

Period.

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3 Responses to Living with Allergies: One Mom’s PSA.

  1. Deborah says:

    This is scary. J’s allergies are certainly a big consideration for me, and they feel like a huge responsibility (one of the things that make me feel like wow, I am really someone’s mom!). But they’re not life-threatening (dust, cats, dogs, down/feathers). It is scary when he gets super-congested and sometimes wheezy. We do have an Epi-Pen, but the allergist says that it is unlikely we will ever need it. At least we generally know those allergens are around, though, and can avoid them. Or at the very least, we can leave them once we see a reaction. I don’t worry about him accidentally getting exposed to something without either or us realizing it. I did not realize what a big responsibility his allergies would be, since they’re such common allergies. But it seems like the stakes are so much higher for you and Owen!

  2. loribeth says:

    I remember your post when Owen had his first reaction. I have gained a whole new sympathy for people with life-threatening allergies ever since I developed my own food allergy (to tomatoes, of all things…!) a couple of years back. Benadryl has always done the trick for me, and I always have some in my purse, but I also have an epi-pen, just in case, because I am aware that these reactions can escalate without warning. I am thankful that my dr was happy to prescribe me one just for my peace of mind (and that my insurance covered the entire cost!).

  3. Heather says:

    We carry an epi-pen for one of our boys as he’s allergic to bee stings. I make sure I keep an eye on when it expires and I keep it in my pocketbook and the school has one too.

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