Last December, I felt more carefree and less anxious. Last December, I was just like you. None of my children had food allergies.
That all changed on Christmas Eve 2015 when my 4-year-old son took a quick bite of a pecan brownie. His life, and my whole family’s lives, changed forever.
He immediately threw up, which I never knew was a common sign of a food allergy. I didn’t think anything was terribly wrong until he started getting big hives all over his body. My husband rushed him to the ER. He was given epinephrine right away, and we were lucky he was OK.
My heart sank at the diagnosis, however, and I was filled with fear as any mom would be. I threw out everything in the house that contained nuts and made an appointment to see a board-certified allergist.
Even though I have life-threatening food allergies and know how common it is, I thought,How could this happen to my son? How on earth would I keep him safe?
Last Christmas, I was terrified but thankful my son’s reaction wasn’t worse. This Christmas, I’m grateful my son survived a whole year with life-threatening food allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, sesame and stevia.
Now before you get bored and consider ditching this blog post, please pay attention. I’m here to say that this can happen to you, too. I want you to learn a few things from my experience. I want your children to be safe.
According to the Food Allergy Research & Education website, about one in 13 children have food allergies. One of these children could be yours. A reaction can happen anywhere, at any time or at any age. My son was 4 when his first reaction occurred, and I was 28. I never worried about what I fed my son before his reaction. He was a little picky but ate many different things.
Now I have to read every label and do hours of research on every single thing he eats or drinks. I make many more things from scratch, including pizza dough, ice cream and most desserts. I live with the knowledge that one bite of food can kill him.
Any child is at risk of developing food allergies, but if your child has eczema, there is an increased risk. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, “approximately 37 percent of young children with moderate to severe eczema also have food allergies.” I wish I knew this when my son was diagnosed with eczema at 2 years old.
When many of us think of food allergies, we think of the images on TV of people’s faces all swollen and hives everywhere. While this does happen to many during anaphylaxis, there are many more signs of an allergic reaction. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, other symptoms can include trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, tightness of throat, abdominal pain, dizziness, fainting, low blood pressure, hoarse voice, rapid heart beat or feeling of doom. Your child may experience one or more of these symptoms. Remember these symptoms and make sure anyone taking care of your children knows them, too. Even though your kids may not have allergies now, they may someday.
Like most of the public, I was also unaware that a tiny amount of an allergen can cause anaphylaxis or death. Cross contamination with other foods or surfaces can also be deadly. I always thought that you had to eat a large amount of the offending allergen to have a serious reaction, like when I ate a huge plate of shrimp scampi, but I was wrong. This is one of the most common misconceptions concerning food allergies.
It bears repeating that you don’t have to eat a lot of your allergen to have a severe food allergy reaction, and that food allergies can affect anyone.
Please become educated on this subject in order to protect your children — and all children.
Because of my research and advocacy, I’m now acquainted with two lovely women who have lost their beautiful boys to food allergies. Georgina Cipriano lost her son, Giovanni, at the age of 14. Julianne DeNicola lost her son, Joseph, at the age of 7. Giovanni and Joseph had their whole lives ahead of them and perished from a bite of the wrong food. Their moms’ advocacy and compassion will save many lives. They’re a constant reminder to me of the reality of food allergies and of what could happen. Unfortunately, there are many more stories of parents losing their children to food allergies. This knowledge follows me around every day like an unwanted shadow.
The life of a food allergy mom is a daily, exhausting and never-ending battle. A battle that I intend to win. A battle that any mom would want to win.
This holiday season, please keep all of these moms in your thoughts and prayers. Please realize how hard it is to keep our children safe in a world filled with their allergens. Please educate yourselves so that you will be able to recognize the signs of a food allergy reaction.
I wish my son didn’t have food allergies. They have completely changed our lives and routines.
They affect everywhere we go and everything we do. But we’re adjusting, and we’ll show our son how to be happy and how to stay safe.
So the next time you consider rolling your eyes or get annoyed at a food allergy mom and her requests, please remember what’s at stake: a child’s life. It’s not a joke. There are no do-overs. Yes, a particle of peanuts or a morsel of pecans can kill a child.
Please become part of our team, the team where all children are included, valued and kept safe.
Please help me to keep my son safe, and I promise I will do whatever I can to keep your child safe.
A Mom Who Is Nuts About Her Son