Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Get in the Game! September 21, 2013

Filed under: Preparedness,School — malawer @ 10:00 am

While coaches and parents everywhere are setting snack schedules for sports, now is the best time to let the team know you have a food allergy.  Other parents can’t make a wise snack decision without knowing their limitations.  When you report your child’s allergy, be sure to offer a few suggestions of categories or brands of food that will be safe.  For example, my son has a peanut, tree nut and sesame seed allergy.  When reporting this to the parent coordinating snacks for my son’s flag football team, I let her know that Lays and Sun Chips are safe, all fruit and juices work for us, as do store-bought Rice Krispie treats.

 

I would also recommend making yourself available for questions.  Leave a phone or email contact.  Making yourself accessible may help prevent food allergy mishaps and accidental exclusion from the team’s snack.  Additionally, taking a few minutes to educate others about food allergies can pay off again and again for you and other food allergic families.

 

If you drop your child off for practice or (s)he plays on a team that you can’t always cheer on in person (as you might with a travel or school team), you’ll want to spend a few minutes teaching the coaches the signs of an allergic reaction and what to do if they see any.    Use your emergency epinephrine trainer and walk them through a (pretend) injection.  Make sure that your child (and maybe some of his teammates) know that the coach knows how to handle a reaction and to find him should (s)he suspect one coming on in your absence.

 

If you and the people surrounding your child are prepared, all he or she has to worry about is having fun and making the play.  Go team!

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That’s What Friends Are For September 9, 2013

Filed under: Preparedness,School — malawer @ 9:00 am
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I count my lucky stars for the amazing and supportive friends I’ve made throughout my life.  It’s something I try never to take for granted.  Friendship, as you know, is essential to well-being.  And in my son’s case, it might be critical to it.

 

Some of his oldest and best supporters were featured alongside him in the Discovery Channel documentary over the weekend. They are constantly making sure their parents have safe snacks for my son during play dates; they are patient and kind when we collectively can’t eat dessert from a particularly enticing menu during family dinners; and they ensure that he feels included when, for example, team snacks aren’t allergy-friendly.

 

Over the summer, the father of one of his best buddies told me something that almost made me cry with gratitude.  The friend’s parents had spoken to their son about food allergies.  And, as they educated him about food allergies in general and my son’s allergies in particular, they also practiced what he should do in a food allergic emergency.

 

They taught him the signs of an allergic reaction:

  • Hives or itching;
  • Coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing;
  • Complaints of an itchy or swollen throat/tongue;
  • Upset stomach;
  • And/or if my son just doesn’t look right after eating something.
 

They also gave him a plan of action:

  • Tell an adult (preferably my husband or me, but his parents or any other supervising adult would do); and
  • Call 911.
 

My heart swelled.  I hadn’t asked them to do this.  I hadn’t asked them to have their son safeguard mine.  But that’s what friends do, don’t they:  they look out for one another.  This responsible little guy is now another educated eye on my son when I’m not immediately there — which may be more and more as he grows up.  And that gives me some peace of mind.

 

Following this conversation, my son and his friend were at dinner with us.  After the bread was delivered to the table, his friend quietly got up from his seat next to my son, walked to the other side of the table and spoke with his father.  As it turned out, he was trying to decide whether he should move seats or forego the bread which was sprinkled with sesame seeds in order to protect my child.  I had (and still have even as I type this) goosebumps at the understanding and thoughtfulness of this fabulous 8 year old.

 

If you watched “Emerging Epidemic”  you may have noticed how friends and relatives play a crucial role to food allergic children.  The most explicit example came about 20 minutes into the program when Andrew’s story unfolds.  Among the many things we learn about Andrew is that he is surrounded by friends who understand his food allergies.  They are knowledgable about what to do in case of a reaction and are there to help him.

 

I’ve said it many times, but educating young people about food allergies in general increases social consciousness about this widespread issue.  It not only instills empathy for their food allergic peers whose experiences are different from their own, but it helps them rehearse what to do in case of an emergency when precious seconds count.   With two kids in every classroom with food allergies, this kind of education could save lives.

 

An Emerging Epidemic – Discovery Channel to Air Piece on Food Allergies September 3, 2013

Every parents’ worst nightmare just happened in California.  A young teenager, confident, responsible and well-educated about her food allergies took a bite of a typically safe snack that happened to be made this time with peanut butter.  She took every precaution; she didn’t even swallow it.  Her parents were there.  Her dad, a doctor, administered a usually life-saving dose of epinepherine — three times.  And, despite the arrival of the ambulance, she suffered cardiac arrest and died.  My heart breaks for the Giorgi family.  And, this story haunts not only me, but everyone touched by food allergies.

 

The widespread effects of food allergies among children has been gaining national attention these days.  Contributing to that conversation is the Discovery Channel who, in partnership with FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), produced a documentary about food allergies to air on the Discovery Channel on September 7th.

 

Narrated by Steve Carell, this educational program features interviews with the top allergists advancing the understanding of food allergies and those revolutionizing its treatment.  It reviews legislative efforts to protect Americans living with food allergies.  The documentary also interviews families who live with food allergies and those who are working to raise awareness about it.  My family was privileged to be among them.

 

The discussion surrounding food allergies is steadily growing, as evidenced not only by the Discovery Channel documentary but also by the New York Times Magazine article (“The Allergy Buster“, March 7, 2013) about the amazing work of allergists across the country and by Dr. Kari Nadeau in particular.  As most of us are well aware, the rate of food allergies is on the rise (over 50 percent in the last 20 years alone) as is the rate of hospitalization for food allergic reactions.  And, although rare and a fact all parents would like to ignore, the risks of fatality from this devastating diagnosis are real.

 

In my interview during the documentary, it was important for me to share our collective perspective as parents:

  • Food allergies are not the same as food preference – food allergies can be deadly – a fact that shakes us to our core;
  • Parenting a child with food allergies requires exhaustive vigilance to keep kids both physically safe and psychologically healthy;
  • We are committed to educating those people who don’t understand food allergies and eternally grateful to those who do.
 

My son, who is 8 1/2 lent a food allergic child’s point of view:

  • Living with food allergies isn’t easy and can even be downright difficult;
  • Having food allergies puts him in awkward social situations frequently that he must sometimes navigate without adults: at school, he eats at a separate peanut-free table for children but must still remain careful of their tree nuts and dairy items.  He brings his own cup cakes to birthday parties, having to refuse even the BEST looking birthday cake.  He cannot share in foods offered by well-meaning parents of his friends, which can exclude him from surprise treats at school, celebrations and holidays.
  • It can bring about a constant sense of concern.  In his own words to his grandparents, my son recently said, “The problem with being a kid with food allergies is that I can’t be careful [about food] only 70% of the time.  I need to be careful 100% of the time. “

I know you may have heard the same from your children and I know we all wish it wasn’t our child’s responsibility to feel this way.

 

This underscores my personal philosophy that in order to raise confident kids, we – the parents, teachers, siblings, grandparents, camp counselors, chefs – need to approach food and food allergies in a new and healthy way.  I am as committed as ever to helping simplify the lives of families managing food allergies in the hopes of reducing some of the stress surrounding food.   And, I will continue to lend my voice to further the understanding of food allergies.

 

Kudos to the Discovery Channel for recognizing the significance of this issue and the way in which the effects of food allergies are touching the lives of so many and kudos to FARE, Mylan Specialty L.P. and the Discovery Channel for bringing this to our collective attention.  

 

The documentary will begin its run on the Discovery Channel on Saturday, September 7th, 2013 at 8am and again on September 21st at 8am.  The program will also be available to download and for use by schools nationwide through Discovery Education.

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