September 09, 2007

Don't Kill the Allergy Mom

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.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be sharing some of our allergy survival tips as well as new pointing out some tasty peanut-free snacks, many of which are free of other common allergens like tree nuts, dairy, soy, sesame, and gluten. I hope you’ll chime in with tips and resources as well.

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 going to share a few thoughts and a gluten-free recipe later in this series (wait, maybe she really is my friend!). She 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


Anonymous said...

WOW, I saw myself in your post LOL. My son is 11 and allergic to peanuts, nuts, peas, sesame seeds, bananas, carrots, dairy, ( I am sure I am leaving something out) Thank you for the smile.

Heather said...

I, too, am That Allergy Mom...My three-year-old son is allergic to dairy, egg, barley, sesame, flax, banana, and a number of non-food things. All of the above are severe allergies.

Your post reminds me of the day that I was 'test' feeding wheat to my son at our local drop-in play centre, and one of the other moms present that day called the manager at home that night to complain about it! Her concern was how she would explain to her children if my son had had a reaction. (!!!)

I have taken my challenges in managing my son's allergies on to a new blog (soon to be social networking site) and informational hub for parents of allergic kids. I would have been glad to find such a resource when my Wee Lad was small and very sick - before the source of his allergies were finally pinpointed.

thanks for this post.


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