Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Your Must-Read Allergy and Asthma Resource April 26, 2018

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Check out The Allergy & Asthma Network’s fantastic and informative publication Allergy & Asthma Today.  You can find it in your doctor’s office or online.  Not only does it contain information about food allergies, but it also covers asthma and other allergies as well.  I learn something new in every issue.

 

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The latest issue features two of my articles.  The first covers lupin allergies. (Have you heard of them?  You’ll want to learn more…).  And, the second article covers the backlash Sony Pictures faces following their decision to include an allergic reaction in the children’s movie “Peter Rabbit.”

 

Be sure to check these articles and all the others out today!

 

 

Food Allergies on the Big Screen February 12, 2018

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Sony Pictures and the creators of the upcoming movie “Peter Rabbit” are facing a backlash from parents across the globe after it was revealed that the rabbits use a gardener’s food allergy to attack and impair him.

 

Food allergies are among several disabilities that are used as cheap gags in movies and on TV.  Sometimes, such as in the movie “Hitch” and on the TV show “Modern Family,” they garner laughs because the symptoms of anaphylaxis are so severe and fast-acting that they take the audience by surprise.  Sometimes they are used to show weakness or to emphasize low social status, like nerdiness.  In a recent Party City ad slated to run during this year’s Super Bowl, having a food allergy was deemed “gross” to convey it as annoying.

 

What makes the “Peter Rabbit” use of food allergies particularly distasteful is that 2017 was speckled with stories of food allergy bullying across the world; including the arrest of two young teenagers who knowingly used a peer’s food allergy against her sending her into anaphylaxis and at least one death – that of a 13 year old at the hands of his classmates who had snuck cheese into his sandwich at lunch.

 

The exclamation point on the “Peter Rabbit” case is that the rabbits reportedly state that food allergies are “made up for attention.”  Unfortunately, this plays on some people’s already-formed perception of food allergies and undercuts how serious they truly are.

 

The use of food allergies to prompt laughter reinforces stereotypes, spreads misinformation and strengthens the idea that food allergies are a choice meant for self-importance or as an inconvenience to others.  The use of food allergies in children’s media prays on the worst fears of children with food allergies and their families.  [1 in 13 kids in the United States have food allergies – that’s nearly 20 kids – and about 80 family members – in every screening of “Peter Rabbit” who live with the anxieties of the very severe consequences that just a small crumb of an allergen can trigger.]  These children are watching their nightmare come to life on the big screen.

 

The food allergy community is accustomed to hearing food allergies become the butt of a joke. Jokes, as distasteful as they are to some, may have their place in adult-oriented films and television shows (as is the case with the movie “Hitch” and “Horrible Bosses”).  But when it’s placed in children’s programming, it becomes unacceptable.  Exposure to such imagery, dialogue and attitudes during such a formative time in their lives can affect young audiences with food allergies (and influence those without) both psychologically and socially.  It can scare and scar those with food allergies.  And, showing it “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way” (as Sony describes it in their apology) teaches others that food allergies are not to be taken seriously.  By watching “Peter Rabbit,” kids are learning that using someone’s food allergy against them is both humorous and without consequence.  Meanwhile, children with food allergies are watching – horrified – while the audience jovially cheers the rabbits on. It’s amazing that storylines, such as this one, pass through vast numbers of people for approval without being questioned for their impact on children.

 

Thankfully, Sony has issued an apology recognizing the insensitivity of the “Peter Rabbit” material.  Let’s hope that other production companies learn from this lesson.  Apologizing after the fact is the easiest thing in the world.  How can we ensure that this doesn’t happen in the first place?

 

What is an Oral Food Challenge and How to Prepare February 5, 2018

Let’s start right from the beginning:

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What is a food challenge?

 

Sometimes a skin prick test and/or a blood test does not give a doctor enough information to know if a patient is truly allergic to a particular food.  A food challenge, sometimes known as an Oral Food Challenge (OFC) or just oral challenge, is the best way for an allergist to evaluate a patient’s allergic response.

 

Food challenges are sometimes used to diagnose a food allergy.  While skin prick tests and blood tests are great indicators of a food allergy, they cannot help a doctor or patient understand their individual risk of a reaction.  Only the Oral Food Challenge can demonstrate a person’s true sensitivity to a given food.

 

Oral challenges are also helpful in determining whether a patient has outgrown a food allergy.  Doctors will suggest an oral food challenge when they believe an individual may successfully tolerate a food they previously tested allergic to.

 

How does it work?

For a variety of reasons, doctors may want to test a patient against his/her food allergy.  In a doctor’s office or hospital setting, food is given to that patient every 15 to 30 minutes – beginning with a very small amount and increasing with each “dose”.  The patient is observed and medically evaluated at each interval to check for symptoms of a reaction.  Feeding typically continues until a full portion of that food is consumed safely.

 

If the doctor sees symptoms of a reaction, he/she will stop the test.   If, on the other hand, there are NO symptoms, your doctor may rule out a food allergy and discuss ways to manage that food going forward.

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Where do you go for a food challenge?  Can I do it myself at home?

OFCs are ONLY conducted in a doctor’s office or hospital setting and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.  It is critical that the patient be checked by a doctor or nurse at each stage in the process for a reaction.  And, should such a reaction occur, the medical staff are on-site ready to respond immediately.

 

You SHOULD NEVER conduct an oral food challenge at home.

 

How safe are OFCs?

 

Food challenges have an excellent safety record because allergists and trained professionals follow medical standards and procedures for the test and they are prepared to handle any emergency that arises.  Thousands of OFCs have been performed worldwide safely.

 

Be aware, there is a risk for an allergic reaction with this test which is why it MUST be performed by a doctor in a medical setting.  The most common reactions in an oral challenge are mild skin and stomach reactions which are typically treated with antihistamines.  Allergists are prepared to use epinephrine and other medications in the unlikely event that a more severe reaction occurs.

 

That said, most doctors recommend an oral challenge when they believe the patient will pass this test.  They try to set their patients up for success.

 

How do I prepare for a food challenge?

 

1.  Remind yourself and/or your child that there is no “passing” or “failing” an oral challenge – there are only results.  In this way, you can keep anticipation and disappointment in check.  [But feel free to go crazy celebrating if you’re able to add another food to your diet later!]

 

2. Have a conversation with your allergist’s office about what to bring and how to prepare it.  Allergists typically recommend how to prepare the food you are testing for.  For example, when my son tested for soy, we brought soy milk; for wheat, we brought toast; for milk and egg, we were instructed to make muffins and French Toast using a particular recipe.  Depending on your child’s age and particular tastes, the allergist may be able to alter the recommended food to make it more palatable.

 

3. You will need to stop taking antihistamines as well as some other medications for at least one week prior to your appointment.  Discuss this with your doctor’s office for further instructions.  ALWAYS take emergency medication (such as a rescue inhaler or epinephrine) should you need it leading up to the oral challenge. Oral challenges can be postponed if need be.

 

4. Prepare for the day.  Oral Food Challenges often take several hours.  Think about what will amuse you and your child for that period of time.  Consider coloring books, small lego sets, matchbox cars, books, a portable DVD player or iPad.  And, yes, that means you might arrive with a giant “tote bag of fun,” looking like you’re ready to move into the doctor’s office like I did.

 

5. Write down questions about the possible results of the test as you go along,  You should have a chance to discuss the results after the challenge has finished.  Some questions you may wish to ask if you can add a new food:

  • What do the results tell us about my allergy?
  • Are there any limits to the quantity/variations of this new food we can add?
  • Can we add this food in its baked AND unbaked forms?
  • What symptoms should I look for over the next few hours and days?
  • Does this alter my Emergency Action Plan?  Can you fill out a new plan so that I can copy this information for the school nurse, after care, babysitter, etc?

 

 

For those of you who have experienced an oral challenge: what advice would you add?

 

The Dangers of a Dairy Allergy November 17, 2017

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Three year old, Elijah Silvera, was attending a regular day of preschool in New York City recently, when preschool workers fed him a grilled cheese sandwich despite school papers which formally documented his severe dairy allergy.  Elijah had a severe allergic reaction and went into anaphylaxis.  Standard procedure for anaphylaxis is to administer epinephrine and call 911 immediately.  Instead, the school called Elijah’s mother, who picked up her child and drove him to the hospital herself.  Doctors in the emergency room tried but were unable to save him.

 

Dairy allergy is the most common food allergy among young children.  And, although the peanut can produce some of the most severe allergic reactions (as well as some of the most tragic headlines), an allergy to milk products can be life-threatening.  The myth that a dairy allergy is not serious and doesn’t require as much vigilance causes great frustration to many who are allergic to milk, as does the idea that a food is “allergy free” if it does not contain nuts. To those who live with it, a dairy allergy requires an enormous amount of preparation and education since milk is an ingredient in so many products.

 

Dairy is cow’s milk and found in all cow’s milk products, such as cream, butter, cheese, and yogurt.  Doctors sometimes advise patients with a dairy allergy to avoid other animals’ milk (such as goat) because the protein it contains may be similar to cow and could cause a reaction.  Reactions to dairy vary from hives and itching to swelling and vomiting, to more severe symptoms such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.  Strictly avoiding products containing milk is the best way to prevent a reaction.  The only way to help stop a severe food allergy reaction is with epinephrine; patients should always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with them at all times.

 

Just like other allergens, cross contamination is a concern for those with a dairy allergy. Even a small amount of milk protein could be enough to cause a reaction. For example, butter and powdered cheese (like the kind you might find on potato chips) are easily spreadable in a pan, within a classroom or on a playground.  And, as with other allergens, hand sanitizer does NOT remove the proteins that cause allergic reactions.  Doctors recommend hand washing with good old soap and water – but wipes work in a pinch.

 

Those allergic to dairy must not only avoid food; they often have to look out for health and beauty products too.  Dairy can be found in vitamins, shampoo, and lotions.  It is critical to read the ingredient labels of every product you buy each time you buy it as ingredients and manufacturing procedures may change.

 

In the United States, any food product containing milk or a milk derivative must be listed as DAIRY or MILK under the current labeling laws (see The Ins and Outs of Reading Food Labels, Aug. 2016).  If you are living or traveling elsewhere, this list of some alternative names for dairy may be useful:

 

milk (in all forms: goat, whole, skim, 1%, 2%, evaporated, dry, condensed, etc)
butter (including artificial butter and margarine)
cream
buttermilk
sour cream
half and half
yogurt
cheese
ice cream
custard
sherbet
pudding
chocolate
ghee
whey (all forms)
casein
caseinates (all forms)
casein hydrolysate
lactose
lactulose
lactoferrin
lactalbumin (all forms)
diacetyl
rennet casein

 

Let’s spread the facts about dairy allergy so that our schools and teachers better understand how to accommodate and care for students with food allergies.   Any allergen can produce severe, life-threatening allergic reactions and all food allergies should be taken seriously and managed with attention.  I sincerely  hope that by informing others we can prevent another tragedy like the one the Silvera family was forced to experience.

 

Parenting Positively in the Face of 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!

 

The Language of a Food Allergic Reaction September 11, 2017

A food allergic reaction can vary from mild to severe and typically takes place shortly after eating or exposure.  All reactions require immediate attention.  But with severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, minutes matter.

 

As kids head back to school and begin new activities, it’s important for EVERYONE to become familiar with the symptoms of anaphylaxis and what it language a young child might use to describe it.

 

Symptoms of Severe reaction

Some of the symptoms of a severe reaction are obvious: hives, vomiting, coughing.  But for others, we need to rely on verbal clues.  Young children may describe an allergic reaction a little differently than adults would.

 

Language of Food Allergic Reaction

 

Should you suspect that your child, or one in your care, is experiencing anaphylaxis, act immediately:

  1. Administer epinephrine, holding pen for 5-10 seconds in meaty part of outer thigh.
  2. Call 911.
  3. Contact parents.

 

Minutes matter when it comes to treating anaphylaxis.  Knowing the symptoms and the different ways it might be described will help you save a life.

 

 

New Snack Alert! Enjoy Life Granola Bars September 6, 2017

Note: Enjoy Life sent me their new granola flavors to sample.  I am reviewing because I truly enjoyed them and believe they are a good product for families like mine.

Your lunch game just got easier.  Enjoy Life recently released granola bars in a few new flavors – and they are anything but ordinary.  While on vacation with our extended family, we decided to have a taste test.  We’re a picky crew, because between us we are allergic to:  peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy, eggs, pineapple, shrimp, salmon and gluten (celiac).

 

Amazingly, these were a big hit with everyone, allergic and otherwise.  Everyone had their own favorite flavor.  Mine was the Caramel Blondie.  Sweet and buttery, the caramel tasted fantastic dotted with chocolate chips.  Why hasn’t this flavor been created sooner?!

My cousin, a chef, loved the Carrot Cake granola bars.   The cinnamon-y, pumpkin spice flavor was just right balanced against the sweet carrot taste.  Your kids will LOVE eating their vegetables this way!  If only it counted towards their daily intake!

Her daughter, 6, preferred the Lemon Blueberry Poppy Seed.  What a sophisticated palate – clearly the child of a cook!  These were moist and delicious like the others.  The blueberry and poppy tastes were complimented by the citrusy lemon.  Yum!  I’d eat these for breakfast!  Is that a thing?!

 

Best of all, as always Enjoy Life is free from: gluten, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish and are Kosher and Halal and non-GMO.