Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My kids have food allergies....

....and I found out the hard way.
4 years ago, I gave Clifford some pistachio gellato and he started coughing. Richard and I didn't think anything of it considering Clifford was getting over a head cold at the time.
The next night after dinner, Clifford asked for some more, so we gave it to him and he had the same response. I thought he was getting sick again.

After throwing some cough syrup at the issue and putting him to bed, I noticed that he was very lethargic but he wasn't complaining, so....carry on.
About an hour later he wandered down the hall to my room saying his arms were hurting. The kid was COVERED in hives. He was also wheezing like a life-long smoker.

Knowing that it was likely a reaction to the pistachios, I gave him some chewable Benedryl for the hives, got him dressed, grabbed the gellato, and we headed for the closest urgent care.
I didn't have a very strong emotional reaction to my child not being able to breathe well, and that was on purpose. I knew that as soon as I got upset, Clifford would flip out and it would be a nightmare. I stayed calm, therefore he stayed calm. I highly recommend this approach.

We arrived at the urgent care center, walked up to the intake desk (where you usually sit for 47 hours waiting for someone to acknowledge you) and I said aloud, "I have pistachio gellato and a kid who can't breathe. Could be a possible nut allergy".

The next thing I knew, Clifford was being whisked away to be pumped full of meds. That's when he got upset.
He calmed down quickly when he realized I wasn't going anywhere without him, and he enjoyed the focus being on me as I was peppered with questions from the doctors. They quickly confirmed that it indeed was an allergic reaction, and likely to treenuts.

Here's where it gets a little squirrely....the urgent care doctors gave him oral Prednisone. Now for those of you who either have children with food allergies, or have them yourself, you KNOW that when anaphylaxis (breathing difficulties) is involved, the only sure way to treat it and stop the reaction is through an injection of Epinephrine. That's why we have to carry Epi-Pens with us everywhere.
This is something I did not find out until months later when we got in to see an allergist who knew her stuff. Clifford got lucky in that the Prednisode happened to stop the reaction.

Fast forward 4 years, several rounds of skin and blood tests, countless Epi-Pen prescription refills, and major diet changes....I have two kids who have significant food allergies.

At first I was insane. I was printing off and reading the entire Arlington County Public Schools menu ingredients list, I was calling school administrators, I was listing out all "off-limits" foods for every family member and emailing them around. I was terrified someone would end up accidentally killing my kids. It was a very helpless feeling.
Since then, I've calmed down. The kids are much better at reading labels and knowing their limits. They've grown up quite a bit. And what's even better is they have grown out of quite a few of their allergies already so their diets are not as restrictive, and I'm not as much of a nervous wreck when it comes to eating out. It's been an adjustment, but we're living with it.

Here's how we started out 4 years ago:
Clifford: Allergic to peanut, treenuts, sunflower, sesame
Alexander: Allergic to peanut, treenuts, sunflower, sesame, fish/seafood

My thoughts? "Well, I guess these kids can kiss all Asian cuisine goodbye. Poor little guys".

Since that time they have both grown out of the peanut, sunflower and sesame allergies. Thank goodness! Being allergic to sunflower meant no more Goldfish Crackers. Those are a diet STAPLE when you're a kid. Needless to say, the kids were very pleased.

Random things I've learned in all this madness:
1. For those with treenut allergies...Watch out for things like Cetaphil skin products. Wonderful for eczema, but they contain macadamia nut oil (a treenut) and will likely cause a skin reaction in the highly allergic.

2. Check for pesto in the pizza sauce- A lot of restaurants have "cheese pizza" on the kids' menu. I have yet to run across a restaurant that actually uses pesto in the kids' sized pizza sauce (pesto = pine nuts = treenuts). However, I still ask every time because you never know.

3. Coconut is considered a fruit. For a long time we avoided anything containing coconut oil because we thought it was a treenut and would kill the kids. Turns out it's a fruit so it was safe for us. As always, be sure to check with your allergist before handing over those SpongeBob fruit snacks.

4. For those with fish/seafood allergies...When eating out, ALWAYS inquire about the restaurant possibly having dedicated fryers for people with allergies. I have on several occasions asked to speak directly to the chef because the waitstaff couldn't tell me if the french fries were also fried in the same oil as the fish. You'd be surprised at how few restaurants have dedicated fryers, so always ask.

5. Fast food websites usually have very detailed allergen information, so do your research before you go! It turns out that out of all the fast food restaurants we've visited only McDonald's has dedicated fryers separating the fish and the french fries/nuggets. All others fry their nuggets and fries in the same oil as the fish, so be careful when considering ordering the chicken nuggets, or anything else that's fried. Poor Alexander spent years without a single chicken nugget until we found out McDonald's was safe.
Places like Chick-fil-A are fine because they do not serve fish, but watch your peanut allergies. Even refined peanut oil can cause a reaction in a severely allergic child, although it the restaurant claims it's safe, so check with your allergist first.

For parents who are just entering this crazy world of kids and food allergies, the best information resources available (in my opinion) can be found on the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network website. This site cleared up a lot for me and made it all far less overwhelming.

More posts to come on the crazy adventures of my kids and their food allergies....
In the mean time- any questions? Feel free to email me.

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