My eldest was a projectile vomiter. It took us a while to realise it wasn’t reflux, but a food allergy.
No, we’re not talking a little bit of baby dribble on a bib. We’re talking entire curdled milk stomach contents splattered over everything and everyone several times a day. My record for washing vomit out of my hair was six times in one morning.
And we were lucky. Other friends have it much worse: children with severe, life threatening reactions called anaphylaxis. Here’s what they wish people knew about having a child with severe allergies.
What it’s really like when your kid has food allergies
Anaphylaxis is more than ‘just an allergy’.
Many people have allergies: about one in 10 children under the age of one. The good news is that many children have only minor reactions, and most will outgrow their allergy. The bad news is that all these allergies can mean some people don’t take it all that seriously when we say ‘my kid has allergies’. Because while hives, vomiting, swelling and wheezing are scary and distressing, for kids with anaphylaxis, allergies are life threatening. These allergies can kill.
If you hang out with us for more than a minute, we will make the announcement: our child has allergies. We may not use a megaphone, though at times it would be easier. But it is critical to the health of our child that you are aware of their food allergies early. Before you offer them cake. It can feel slightly AA at times: hi, I’m Kerry and my kid has allergies.
We might seem a little nutty
Friends talk of being met with eye rolls when they ask what is in a food or to check the ingredients list on the packet. People often act like we are being over the top. No, we’re not some kind of nutter, just forever on the alert for nuts or traces of them. Or maybe other common triggers: milk, eggs, fish, seafood, soy, sesame and wheat. We are food label experts by necessity, able to scan and assess the risk every food represents.
Don’t kiss my kid
Teaching healthy boundaries around their bodies is important for all children, but there is another side when we ask you not to kiss our kid. Some food allergies in children are so severe that if you have eaten the trigger food and then kiss our kid that will cause anaphylaxis. Same goes for touching the trigger and then touching our child. So seriously. Don’t kiss my kid.
We get obsessive about Epipens
There is no cure yet for food allergies in children. The only way to manage it is to avoid the triggers, and to carry an EpiPen everywhere, which is an injection containing epinephrine that can reverse the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. So we get obsessive about Epipens. There must be an Epipen with our child at all times. And back up ones at childcare, school and anywhere else they spend time regularly. We become Epipen experts, responsible for teaching anyone who cares for our child how to administer the Epipen because one day you may literally have our child’s life in your hand.
But an Epipen is not an easy fix
Just because Epipens are wondrous and lifesaving does not mean we don’t have to be vigilant all the time. Yes Epipens will help in the event of an allergic reaction. But the reaction itself is terrifying and traumatic for our child. And while the Epipen buys time, it doesn’t cure the reaction – medical attention will still be needed. And there can be side effects to using an Epipen, like breathing problems, pounding heartbeats, nausea, vomiting and headaches. So having an Epipen doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about food allergies in children – it’s not like just applying a band aid.
Babysitting is stressful
Or anywhere that our child is not in our direct care. It means ensuring that everyone who has our child in their care knows about the allergy, the signs and symptoms of a reaction and what to do. We wish there was a flash card called ‘what not to feed our kid and how to save him/her if you do’.
Birthday parties can be tricky
Anywhere with uncontrolled food is stressful. As our children get older and more aware of their allergy, it is getting easier for them to monitor what they are eating. And often it is simplest to just pack our own food. But it’s tricky, and easy to feel excluded at birthday parties, shared food events and even cooking class at school.
Eating out isn’t easy
Eating out is not easy with food allergies in children. Even if we let wait staff know about a food allergy, there is always the risk of an unknown ingredient or cross contamination. Again, taking our own food is often safest – but kind of takes away the point and ease of eating out.
Most importantly: allergies are inconvenient but our children are not
Allergies are inconvenient. Yep, sometimes that might inconvenience you. Affect what you can serve. What your no-allergy kid can pack for school lunch or take in to class for a shared birthday treat. Mean you have to consider allergies when planning a party or play date. We get it. We live with and make adjustments for these limitations every day.
But our children shouldn’t be made to feel like an inconvenience. Or excluded. You taking the time to work within our children’s allergies means that they can be part of the fun, the treat, the party or playdate. Yes they have an allergy. Please don’t punish them for it.
All we really ask?
If there are children in your life with allergies, educate yourself and your kids about allergies. And help make it easier for children with food allergies and their parents. Don’t judge. Make small adjustments so they can be and feel included. We will be so grateful. Life with young children with severe allergies is stressful enough.
Do food allergies run in your family? Take a look at the latest research about how breastfeeding mums who eat nuts can cut allergy risks in their kids.