Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Food Allergies: Overcoming Disagreements November 27, 2017

thanksgiving-table-satya-murthy

The holidays are a magical time – filled with hope and kindness.  But when you have food allergies, holiday gatherings are sometimes filled with the possibility of being excluded, disappointed, or the fear of having a food allergic reaction.

As parents and patients, we feel like we are constantly educating others about food allergies.  Our extended families and friends surely should know by now how real and severe a food allergy can be – shouldn’t they?!  Unfortunately, many times our family and friends don’t understand.  They underestimate the severity of a reaction and the amount of time and energy we put in to preparing for a regular day – never mind a holiday!  We often feel let down and angry when others don’t take food allergies into consideration or are set on upholding their traditions at the expense of someone else’s health and safety.

These disagreements around the holidays can set off a chain of unhealthy interactions that could cause relationships to strain.  Don’t end your relationship with family or friends.  Try the techniques outlined in the article below first and see if you can teach them about what your life with food allergies is really like.

Please read this article I wrote, published in the magazine Allergy & Asthma Today by the Allergy & Asthma Network, for more information.

http://bit.ly/2ncAJHY

Screenshot 2017-11-27 11.34.17

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Positive Parenting with Food Allergies September 29, 2017

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Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lyndsay Edwards of Allergy Blog Awards UK.  In her podcast, she asked a lot of thought-provoking questions on the topic of parenting a child with food allergies.

 

Because of the challenges and risks associated with food allergic reactions, it is critical to raise food allergic children to be confident, resourceful, and self-advocating.  And all of that begins with a good attitude towards food.

 

Here is the transcript of Lyndsay’s well-crafted podcast [or listen here: Allergy Blog Awards UK – Allergy Shmallergy Living Positively with Food Allergies].

 


 

So, I know your son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy at 6 months old and other allergies by the time he was just 15 months old, can you just take us back to that time and what it was like for you getting the diagnosis?

 

Despite his eczema, acid reflux and asthma (conditions that I now understand to be related to food allergies), I was in denial.  Even though I followed her instructions to the letter, I scoffed at our pediatrician’s recommendation to avoid feeding my son a whole host of allergens as we introduced first foods.  “He’s probably not allergic to any of these!” I remember saying.

 

When she called us to discuss the results of my son’s blood test, revealing that he was allergic to eight different foods in addition to environmental allergens, I was completely overwhelmed.  I couldn’t stop wondering:

 

What does this mean Not only the test results, but also in a bigger sense:  what does this mean for his life?  Will he have a normal life?  And more importantly, what can I feed him for dinner tonight?!!

 

I found myself grieving for the hopes and dreams I had imagined for my child (like baking cookies and spontaneous trips to get ice cream), but then my husband snapped me out of it.  He reminded me that we would find work arounds.  And, if they didn’t exist, we’d create them!  Very quickly, THAT became my focus.

 

 

How do you cater for your son at home?  Do you all eat the same?

 

Because my son was allergic to so many foods, I had to learn how to cook (and fast!).  Unbelievably, he’s my most adventurous eater.  He loves everything seafood (no matter how crazy the dish), sushi…  and he’s consistently adding requests to his list.

 

These requests inspire me to learn how to cook all kinds of intimidating international cuisine.  No one who knows me would have EVER guessed that I regularly cook Chinese food or Persian or make all kinds of sushi.  In high school, I once burnt soup!  SOUP!

 

When he was a toddler (and an only child), I was making separate meals for my son.  But being a short order cook isn’t my strong suit and I didn’t want my son to feel like I was treating him differently because of his allergies.  In his own home, he should feel safe and included.  As I got better at reading recipes, swapping out his allergens for substitutes, I started serving only one meal (what a relief!).  I also began finding meals with optional parts (like tacos that you could stuff with cheese or not and make-your-own pizza night).  I now have quite a collection of tried and true recipes that are free of peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy and in many cases egg (an allergy my son has since outgrown).

 

 

When did you start your blog and what inspired you to do so?

 

It was very important to us to raise a confident child who felt capable in the world.  Food allergies are very stressful.  I wanted to share simple solutions with other parents and put out useful information so that families can remain calm and make informed decisions.

 

 

One of the things that really stood out for me on your blog is how you focus on teaching your son about his food allergies in such a positive way so that he doesn’t feel left out or sad, can you just explain how you do that and what has worked for you and your son?

 

We have repeated the message that everybody deals with something – sometimes that “something” is invisible to the eye, like food allergies.

 

We try to downplay the importance and emphasis on food.  For example, we try to reward achievements with activities rather than treats.

 

And, we remind all of my kids that the best party of any party is always the company, hardly ever the cake.

 

Involve your kids in problem solving.  We can’t control the fact that my son has food allergies, but I can give some control OVER them by getting his input on overcoming obstacles.

 

Prepare, prepare, prepare to provide special treats in anticipation of special events.  Bring a gluten-free cupcake to the party; pack a sesame-free hamburger bun for the barbeque; carry a little dairy-free butter out to dinner.  Create positive experiences around food and demonstrate how easy it is to overcome challenges.

 

Let him vent!  We’ve taught my son the names for his feelings and encouraged him to talk about them.  First, children need to know the language to use to express their emotions.  Then they can engage in an open dialogue to release stress and give parents an insight into how they are experiencing the world.

 

 

Ok, before I get to my last question, can you tell everyone where they can find you on social media, your website, etc?

 

Yes, of course!

[You all know where Allergy Shmallergy is! shmallergy.wordpress.com]

Twitter: @shmallergy

Facebook:  Allergy Shmallergy

Instagram: shmallergy

 

 

And my final question is if you could give allergy parents one tip, what would it be and why?

 

Help prepare your child to negotiate the real world: practice asking questions, allow them to speak to a waiter, in short: EMPOWER them!  Give them the tools to tackle the world!

 

And, provide a safe place for them to come home to. A safe home environment (free of allergens) as well as a safe space psychologically where they can relay their triumphs and articulate their frustrations without judgment or anxiety and find support.

 

That’s two tips (sorry!), but I hope they’re both helpful!

 

Ask Me Anything! September 19, 2017

Filed under: Parent Sanity — malawer @ 11:33 am
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My older child has food allergies.  Now, I’m afraid to introduce his allergens to his younger sibling.  I know I need to, but how can I do it safely?

 

Great question!  And, many of us can relate to your concerns.

 

What is the real risk?

Here’s something encouraging to keep in mind:  Most siblings of kids with food allergies do not develop food allergies themselves.  Studies by lead author Dr. Richi Gupta (2015) showed that siblings only have a minimally higher chance of having food allergies.  And, researchers warned against having siblings allergy tested before introducing food because it increases the odds of false positives, resulting in avoiding foods unnecessarily.

Bottom Line:  Most siblings have no greater risk of having food allergies than any other kid without a food allergic sibling.  That offers a little relief!

 

New Feeding Guidelines:

In January 2017, the experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recommended feeding infants appropriate eggs, fish, dairy, peanut-containing foods (not whole peanuts for fear of choking), or other highly allergenic foods between 4 and 6 months after speaking with your pediatrician.  Contrary to advice many of us were given with our first child, research now shows that delaying introduction may actually increase your baby’s risk of developing food allergies.

 

[Please read: Understanding the New Peanut Allergy Prevention Guidelines for more information and a list of peanut-containing foods.]

 

Bottom Line: You’re actually HELPING your baby by introducing highly allergenic food on time by reducing his/her risk of developing food allergies.  Now’s the time to overcome your fear!

 

What’s the best way to introduce your baby to a food your older child is allergic to? 

After your pediatrician okays introduction and your baby consistently tolerates solid food, plan to introduce one food at a time waiting 3-5 days in between new foods.

  • For the first introduction, buy the new food in single serving size if possible.  This limits accidental exposure and cross contamination risk.  Be sure to store extras, if any, somewhere out of reach of your older child.
  • It might be easiest to introduce a new food when you are alone with your child, so that you can carefully serve the first food, clean up, and observe for reactions.
  • Consider taking your baby on a picnic or outing close to home to minimize your concern about crumbs in the house.
  • Bring your cellphone with you in the unlikely case of a reaction.
  • Remember, that dishwashers are an effective way (but not the only way!) to wash away allergens.  And, hand sanitizers do not get rid of food protein.  Wash hands with soap and water after handling your older child’s allergen.
  • Feed your baby the new food then wait 10  minutes, looking for signs of negative reaction: hives, swelling, behavioral changes or trouble breathing.  If no reaction occurs, continue feeding and monitor for about 2 hours.

When my younger two children were ready to try peanut-containing food, I bought snack size peanut butter cracker sandwiches.  I took each child separately to the local park and had a picnic.  We brought lots of wipes to clean hands and mouth before returning home without a reaction!  It was a special (and productive) day for us both.

 

How Do I Keep Allergenic Food Safely in the House?

Once you’ve established that your baby isn’t allergic to each new food, you may wish to continue keeping it on hand in your home.  Often it is necessary for him or her nutritionally to continue eating allergenic foods like milk, eggs, wheat, etc.  But, it’s important to store the foods your older child is allergic to safely so that your older child avoids accidental ingestion and reaction.

 

If you haven’t already done so, consider implementing a system to label the safe foods in your kitchen  Please read, Food Labels to see the simple system we use here at my house.

 

Think of what a relief it will be once you know your baby can tolerate each new food.  You can do this!  Good luck!

 

 

Managing Food Allergy Anxiety April 20, 2017

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According to a study out of the Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, children with food allergies are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than their non-allergic peers.  And, the more foods they are allergic to, the more likely they are to internalize those feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.

 

How does anxiety present itself in children?  What are the signs parents should look for?

Because children often lack the ability to identify the source of their stress and articulate their feelings clearly, anxiety tends to present in a number of different ways.  Some of these include:

  • stomach aches
  • headaches
  • clinging
  • avoidance: not wanting to go to events or school
  • changes in sleep and eating
  • tearfulness
  • daily persistent worries

 

Periods in a child’s development also make them more susceptible to anxious feelings; such as ages 7-10 when kids are old enough to understand serious health risks but are still too young to manage their fears efficiently.  Similarly, pre-adolescents (tweens ages 10-14) typically develop an awareness of germs, disasters and things that could possibly go wrong, making this age range primed for feelings of nervousness and worry.

 

What can parents do to help their children manage their anxiety?

  1. First and foremost, parents need to model calm. (More on that below…)
  2. When speaking about their food allergies, frame risk in a positive way.  For example, “reading ingredient labels, asking questions and carrying your epinephrine will help keep you safe;” “eating peanuts may make you feel sick;” “having regular cheese can make it hard for you to swallow and breathe…”.  DO NOT talk to kids about death, dying or their mortality.
  3. Give them words for their emotions so that they can express themselves and relieve some of that private, pent-up worry.
  4. Validate their feelings.  Anxiety about food allergies can spill over into more generalized anxiety.  Their fears and perspectives are real to them.
  5. Tell your child a story about a time you had anxiety.  And, if possible, maybe something you did to overcome it!
  6. Explain to your child that everyone experiences some level of anxiety.  It’s a normal part of being human.  But when it becomes overwhelming we need to talk about it to help let it go.
  7. Encourage your daughter or son to socialize with friends and family.  Being with others is a great distraction and reminds them of the support that surrounds them.
  8. Teach them skills to relieve stress, such as breathing techniques, getting out to exercise, or compartmentalizing the discussion of food allergy worries to 10 minutes a day and then moving on.  These are important techniques for life!
  9. Reassure your child that they are in good hands, both at home AND away, like at school, at grandma’s, etc.  Kids need to know they are secure and that those in charge know what they’re doing.
  10. Empower them!  Practice what to say to their friends, family, teachers, and restaurant staff about their food allergies.  Teach them what to do in case they suspect they’re having an allergic reaction.  Work together to read ingredient labels and manufacturing warnings.  Allow them to ask questions at the doctor’s office. The more capable they feel, the more in control they will be!

 

What about us?  

As food allergy parents, we – too – are familiar with the stress and anxiety related to the management and realities of food allergies.  It is as, OR MORE, important that we manage our own anxious feelings as parents so that we can be a model of calm and security for our kids.

 

Anxiety – in all forms – clouds good decision-making (it’s science!).  Keeping worries in check allows us to be more effective parents by approaching decisions and assessing situations with cautiousness and calm.

 

When adults feel out of control, they tend to overcompensate.  This primal need to protect our children kicks into overdrive, leaving parents spinning their wheels in a world they cannot sanitize or make safe enough.

 

Kids tend to absorb the perspective of their parents and they can become frightened if adults around them are very stressed or scared.  Therefore, it’s critical for parents to adopt a healthy attitude towards food, food allergies and the greater world to help their children manage their own food allergies.

 

What can we do to keep ourselves calm?

  1. Find support.  Connect with other food allergy parents or spend time with understanding friends.  Socializing reminds us that we’re not alone with our concerns.  Feel free to use Allergy Shmallergy’s Facebook page to post questions or connect with like-minded parents.
  2. Arm yourself with information.  Familiarize yourself with food labeling laws, causes and symptoms of a reaction, and your emergency action plan.  If you can, learn to cook!  In short, empower yourself!
  3. Adopt simple solutions for your food allergy hurdles.  Resist the pressure to be the perfect baker, for example, and focus on surrounding your child with LOVE.
  4. Trust in others who’ve shown understanding towards food allergies.  A lot of food allergy parents only feel their child is safe when he or she in in their total control.  It’s important to let go a little and let others help.  If you’re at a friend’s house, let the host find a safe snack  – you can still approve the ingredient list, but it will give you a window into their decision-making abilities.  Let your child’s teacher become his or her food allergy-ally while they’re at school.  Every child needs a village.  More importantly, every parent needs one too.
  5. Prepare and approach food-related situations with CAUTION without assuming CATASTROPHE.
  6. Get out and exercise.  Talk a nature walk.  Have a date night.  Be sure to find outlets and activities that bring you joy.

 

 

 

 

Fun for Everyone: Candy Bar Birthday Party April 12, 2017

I wish I could take credit for this adorable idea.  But I can’t.  My friend is just a genius.

 

Her own kids aren’t allergic, but my thoughtful and creative friend had kids with food allergies on her mind when she thought about what special treat her daughter could share with ALL of her party guests.  Like my friend, many parents are concerned with how to be inclusive of guests with food allergies.  Sometimes, the best answer is also the simplest.

 

After singing a rowdy chorus of “Happy Birthday” to our favorite 7 year old, the kids were each given a festive party bag that they could fill with any (or ALL) of their favorite candy.  Best of all, everything was dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free and most was also gluten-free.  There’s nothing that makes a child happier than being included in on the fun!

 

Plus, no goodie bag needed!  The kids all got to bring their loot home.  HUGE bonus in my opinion!

 

If you’re going to replicate this fantastic idea, I would recommend a few things:

  1.  Check Allergy Shmallergy’s Safe List of Nut-Free Candy page.  This is not a comprehensive list.  And, it doesn’t account for other allergies.  But you’ll find that many of the candies listed are also dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free.  Read ingredient lists carefully and if you have any doubts of an item’s safety, snap a photo and email the child’s parent to verify.
  2. Save ingredient lists and bring them to the party.  If anything needs to be double-checked, you’ll have all your information at hand.
  3. Be careful when serving similar looking items (like M&Ms and Skittles).  Not only is chance of cross-contamination a concern with unwrapped candy, but I’ve seen unsafe candy fall into safe candy bowls.  For the purposes of a party, I would stick to the idea that “everything on the table is safe for party guests” principle.

 

Look at this fun, inviting table set up!
Looking for containers and scoops like the ones above?

Set of 12 Clear Plastic Candy Scoops

Penny Candy Jars (set of 2)

Amcan Scalloped Container, Large

Vista Premium Quality Plastic 10″ Serving Bowl (set of 2)


  
Smarties.  A classic!


Caught red handed!  My son and his best friend/brother of the birthday girl.

(Thank you in advance! A portion of the proceeds of the affiliate links go toward AllergyStrong.org – an organization aimed at helping low income and at risk families with food allergies.)

 

Essential Items for Families with Food Allergies – Portable Food Carriers March 28, 2017

Filed under: Parent Sanity — malawer @ 11:00 am
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Food allergy parents are accustomed to prepping safe food at home and taking it on-the-go to parties, school functions, and family gatherings.  Here are a few items that might make carrying safe food just a little easier!

 

Portable Slice of Pizza or Pie?

 

Take a gluten-free or dairy-free slice of pizza to a party?  Who knew there was a container just for that purpose?!  This Brick Oven Pizza Saver looks like it’s perfectly sized to transport both pizza and maybe even a slice of cookie cake or pie!

Brick oven slice saver

 

 

Individual Cupcake Holders:

 

Both this reusable (by Fox Run) and these disposable cupcake holders (both via Amazon) are the PERFECT container to tote a peanut-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free cupcake to a birthday party!

 

Fox Run Cupcake Holder

Cupcake Supply Co Indiv Cupcake holder

 

Removable Labels:

When sending your child with a safe snack or special treat – OR when labeling your own lunch at the office – the best way to ensure it doesn’t get mixed up with someone else’s is to clearly label it.  These removable labels by Avery do just the trick:

Avery Labels

 

Hot Lunch!

 

If your kids are itching for a hot lunch, but school lunches aren’t a safe option, then you absolutely need a thermos that will keep your meal warm for up to 5 hours and fit neatly into your lunchbox or work bag.

 

Thermos

 

And, while you’re packing your lunchbox, why not add Sistema’s four-piece cutlery set.  It connects handles to fork, spoon, kid friendly-knife and chopsticks – making it a synch to grab on-the-go.

Sistema Klipo

 

For Safe Restaurant Dining:

 

If you’re allergic to soy, you’ve probably already toted salad dressing to restaurants.  Allergic to gluten/wheat, I’d bet you’ve stashed tamari in your purse as you meet friends for sushi.  OXO Good Grips On-The-Go Silicone Squeeze Bottles allow you to do just that in a small, spill-free way!

OXO Squeeze containers

 

We want to hear from you!  What other items do you find useful for living with your food allergies? 

 

(Thank you in advance! A portion of the proceeds of the affiliate links go toward AllergyStrong.org – an organization aimed at helping low income and at risk families with food allergies.)

 

Auvi-Q’s Returning to Market With an Innovative New Approach January 23, 2017

Oh, happy day!

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Auvi-Q is coming back to market on February 14, 2017!

As many of you already know, Auvi-Q is an innovative, FDA-approved epinephrine auto-injector that is about the size of a deck of cards.  Auvi-Q was invented by twin brothers, Eric and Evan Edwards, who suffered from severe, life-threatening food allergies as children. Eric Edwards, an MD, and Evan Edwards, an engineer, teamed up as adults to invent this unique and effective life-saving device.

 

This product has a very valuable place on the market:

  • It fits in your pocket – making a great choices for dads, preteens and teens;
  • It speaks the instructions, step-by-step – reducing the worry over training and operation;
  • Auvi-Q’s needle retracts immediately after injection, mitigating the possibility of lacerations and making it safe to handle.

 

But that’s not even the best part.  Not only are Eric and Evan patients, they’re also food allergy parents who understand the needs of our community from a unique, first-hand perspective.  After speaking to patients and considering their own family’s needs, they wanted to ensure all families had access to and could afford their product.  So they are introducing AffordAbility, a first-of-its-kind program under which the vast majority of patients (including those with high deductibles) can obtain Auvi-Q for $0.  And, not only will the product be free for so many patients, but Auvi-Q will also be available for direct-delivery to your home (in most cases, in less than 48 hours in insulated packaging).

 

The makers of Auvi-Q, kaléo Pharma, wanted to remove as many of the barriers families face in order to ensure that the patients who needed this life-saving medication would be able to obtain it.  No family should have fear they are unprepared to help in a life-or-death severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.

 

The Auvi-Q website is a wealth of information: Auvi-Q.com.  Please refer to it for further questions the device, prescription, the AffordAbility program, and direct delivery service.