A child’s food allergy diagnosis is a lot to process. And it can be a huge adjustment for the whole family. Depending on how you learned about the allergy or allergies, the diagnosis may provide some relief. But still the challenges remain. A lot like parenting in general, some days feel good and confidence comes easy. Other days require some deep breathing and self-care.
I don’t have a medical background or prior allergy experience. When I found out my son had a food allergy, less than a year ago, I was overwhelmed. Here are some things I have learned along the way. I hope this information will provide a little direction and help build confidence when learning how to be the advocate each child needs.
1. Do Your Research
Allergies are weird and frustrating. Familiarizing yourself with the materials the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) website provides is a great place to start. FARE also has really helpful webinars on YouTube. It’s important to know that the science is not exact and previous reactions do not provide confirmation, or a guide, of how the body will respond in the future.
In our last appointment, our allergist described three different anaphylactic reactions to the same food experienced by her daughter; each reaction was different. It’s also important to know that reactions always supersede testing when determining an allergy. Allergy testing cannot reveal the severity of a potential reaction, but rather the likelihood that a reaction will occur if exposed.
2. Be Prepared: Have a Plan
An allergy can become anaphylactic at any point. It’s important to have the right tools on hand and a plan of action. Emergency Care Plans are great to make sure you’re on the same page with your allergist as to the best exposure-response. The plan provides specific instructions for managing a reaction and can then be shared with child care providers, family members, and babysitters.
It’s important to review plans periodically and update as needed. For example, our allergy plan was just updated to state that my son should be given epinephrine if the caregiver suspects ingestion of egg or dairy, without waiting for signs of a reaction.
These days, most people carry a set of two injectors and potentially an antihistamine, such as Benedryl. This ensures there is a second dose available to administer if needed. Less severe reactions may be managed with just the antihistamine. And both should be referenced in an allergy plan, if appropriate.
You might be familiar with the term EpiPen and that is the go-to device for many allergists and families. EpiPen Jr is commonly prescribed for kids, but is not the only option. The coolest injector I’ve learned about is Auvi-Q. It literally talks a user through the process of administering the medication. It also has an injector specifically for infants, with a lower dosage and shorter needle. The issue with Auvi-Q is that it can be harder to obtain through insurance. Regardless of which device you have, most provide a tester so you and other caregivers can get comfortable using it.
Depending on your insurance and/or financial situation, it’s really helpful to have multiple sets. Our Auvi-Q unit is kept at daycare since that setting poses the highest risk of exposure, we carry a set with us, and have a third set at my in-law’s home.
3. Read Food Labels
The grocery store can be an overwhelming place and reading labels can be pretty daunting at first. The good news is that there’s never been a safer time for dietary restrictions. The rise of alternative dietary programs has lead to a significant market for gluten-free, vegan, and “top eight” allergen-free foods.
Make sure you talk to your allergist about the risk posed by shared facilities or shared lines. In the Fargo-Moorhead area, my family tends to shop at Costco as much as possible. We have also found a number of allergy-friendly foods at Target, CashWise, and Natural Grocers.
You’ve Got This!
You’re on the right path. It’s a path that’s daunting, emotional, overwhelming, and constant but it gets easier as you find your groove.
Since we’ve identified my little guy’s allergies, the change in his behavior has been so encouraging. He is so much happier and more comfortable now! And it makes all the sacrifices and hard work worth it.