Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

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.

 

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Food Allergies and Family – Disagreements Not Break-Ups April 12, 2016

I hear stories all the time from food allergy parents that their family members aren’t taking their child’s food allergy seriously.  And, this – of course – can have serious implications.  I’m also saddened to hear when this difference in perspective leads to family disagreements – or worse, families cutting one another off completely.

 

Our parents (our children’s grandparents) didn’t grow up with this alarming rate of food allergy.  In fact, many of them didn’t know a single person with a diagnosed food allergy.  Times have changes and current parenting is more active and vigilant than it was 30 years ago.  I’ve explained to many a grandparent that the rise in food allergies is not a trend of parent over-sensitivity or as a result of over-protectiveness, but -in fact- an actual, black and white medical diagnosis.

 

Grandparents and other family members may not understand the amount of work and preparation it takes to safely raise a child with a severe food allergy: the advanced preparation when eating out; repeated education of others; familiarity with labeling laws (such as the FDA’s FALCPA in the United States), alternative names for allergens and a general sense of where it might pop up and cause problems; the worry about our kids and the exclusion we fear they face.  Let’s face it, none of us were prepared for the intense amount of work prior to our family’s first food allergy diagnosis.

 

If there’s one thing I know for sure though, it’s that a parent’s love for their child is fierce.  It knows no bounds.  As food allergic parents, that fierce love we have for our children and our instinct to protect them may come off a little strong.  And, understandably so when we feel like their lives are in danger.  But in the face of difficult decision-making, our anxiety over their well-being may not offer the patient, gentle voice that our family and friends need in order to truly hear our concerns.

 

It doesn’t help that food allergy parents feel disrespected when their own parents don’t fully abide by or outright disregard their guidance about how to feed (and therefore protect) their children.  Food allergy parents can feel betrayed when others are unwilling to make changes to protect their children.

 

So, what can you do when you’re at odds with your family over your child’s food allergies? 

 

First, have a kind but firm talk about the allergies and severity of the possible reactions.  Do this when your child is not present.  Expect a lot of questions, so come prepared with answers from your allergist or pediatrician.  Bottom line: be informative and remain calm.

 

Reminder: don’t put your parents (…siblings, friends…) on the defensive.  Remember the “I” statements you were taught in school.  Now’s the time to employ them.  In essence, phrase your emotions with “I feel…”  rather than pointedly, “You” statements.  “I’m worried that Charlie will have a dangerous allergic reaction because he’s a toddler who doesn’t know the difference between peanuts and raisins,” rather than “You’re not listening to me: put away the peanuts!”

 

Share your learning curve.  Relate to them by reminding yourself (and them) how overwhelmed you first felt when you first received your child’s diagnosis.  They probably feel this way too right now: they’re trying to take it all in and food allergies have likely seemed very far off and remote to them.

 

If necessary, spell out the seriousness.  It can be hard to truly admit – most especially to yourself – the possibility of a severe food allergic reaction and its real consequences.  I have a lump in my throat just writing about it.  Watch the Discovery Channel’s 2013 documentary “Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America” with your parents and siblings (again without the kids present).  The first 10 minutes of this multifaceted documentary deal with an anaphylactic reaction and is a firsthand example of the dangers of food allergies.

 

Remember that old habits die hard.  Most habits are not malicious, but they can be dangerous.  My own father had a nightly habit of snacking on a bowl of nuts, which he continued to do unconsciously when we visited.  When my son could crawl, I reminded him again that this wasn’t safe.  I was frustrated having to restate this every visit, so to drive the point home, I told him, “These nuts are like arsenic for my child.  Leaving them on the table is the equivalent of leaving a loaded gun for my toddler to figure out.”  It clicked immediately.  My dad apologized profusely and has since been phenomenally careful with my son’s allergies.

 

Invite them to a doctor’s appointment.  Allow them to ask as many questions as they have.  Maybe give your allergist or primary care physician a heads up so they know to allow a little extra time for questions and answers.  Hearing the information from a medical professional often underscores what you’ve been saying all along.  You know how your kids listen to their teachers but not you?  Your parents might be the same way.

 

Remind them that as much of an inconvenience as it is for them to adapt to your allergy-friendly lifestyle, assure them that it is SIGNIFICANTLY more so for you and your family.  Make it easier for them to navigate by suggesting some of the tips in The Host’s Guide to AllergiesThe Host’s Guide: Part II; and the Host’s Guide: Part III.

 

Invite them to participate in your lives by organizing activities that DO NOT revolve around food or meals.  I know that’s hard when we talk of family because food and socializing traditionally go hand-in-hand.  But, there’s no need to sacrifice your relationship with even the most obstinate family member – just take away the point of contention:  food.  I know that tensions can flare in the process of trying to win over someone’s mindset, but – by doing other things and removing the obstacle – perhaps you will both come to an understanding about your different perspectives.

 

Families are important.  They are our best cheerleaders.  They remind us of who we are and where we come from.  And, they teach our children all kinds of lessons we can’t impart alone.  By trying to handle differing opinions over a difficult issue like a child’s food allergies in a calm and collected way, we are also modeling great conflict resolution to our kids who pick up on more than we’d like to believe.

 

Food allergy parents need support too.  Parenting is hard.  Parenting a child with life-threatening allergies to something as common as food makes it exponentially more challenging.  Families should be there to help out and pat us on the back for encouragement, to give us a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) after a particularly rough day.  And they should be available to envelope our kids in love, support and safety so they grow up to be confident, self-assured adults with loving families of their own.

 

 

 

 

Food Allergy Education: Allergy and Asthma Today Spring 2016 March 8, 2016

 

As you all know, I strongly support the need for food allergy education in school.  The non-profit Allergy and Asthma Network (AANMA) recently picked up one of my articles on the subject for their publication, “Asthma and Allergy Today.”

asthma allergy today spring 2016

Here’s a link to my article in their Spring 2016 issue:  Thank You For Being a Friend.

 

Or, read it below. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you!  Comment below, on our Facebook page, or email me: erin@allergystrong.com:

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts on:
  • What your school is doing right;
  • Any issues you or your child has faced as a result of insufficient food allergy information/education;
  • Suggestions you have for schools/teachers to create a safer, more inclusive school environment;
  • General comments.

Thank you as always for your support!

 

Thank You For Being a Friend
published in Allergy & Asthma Today – Spring 2016
By Erin Malawer

 

Walking through the halls of an elementary school, you might see inspirational bulletin boards, posters promoting “School Spirit Week,” perhaps a donation box for clothes or backpacks.

 

You would not expect to see a whole walnut rolling around on the floor. That’s what some students at my son’s elementary school found recently. At first they didn’t even know what it was.

 

One of the students bent down to inspect it. “Hey,” he yelled to my 10-year- old son, who is allergic to tree nuts. “Come over here. Is this a walnut?”

Feeling a little nervous, my son backed away, explaining that he, of all people, is not qualified to be a nut inspector. A classmate, a girl also diagnosed with food allergies, stepped in to remind everyone about my son’s allergies. Soon after, the kids began to file into their classroom. Somehow the nut followed them.

 

My son’s deskmate grabbed the walnut and teased him with it, waving the walnut close to his face saying, “Oooooh … A walnut.”

 

My son began to speak up – we had practiced for these types of situations at home. The same girl quickly interjected, “Are you crazy? He’s ALLERGIC to nuts! He could go to the hospital!”

 

My son wasn’t harmed. But he WAS upset when I picked him up from the bus.

 

“Mom,” he said, “I know I seem really tough – like my feelings are as thick as a wall. But inside, they can be as thin as paper.”

 

We discussed what he was feeling, things he would have liked to have said, how thankful he was to have a friend like the girl who stood up for him. He felt sure his classmates acted out of misunderstanding or lack of education, rather than malice.

 

This incident was innocent enough. The first boy was curious; the second boy truly didn’t understand the potential consequences of his actions. He thought my son would join in on the joke because they are friends.

 

I asked the school if I could come into the classroom to teach the kids about food allergies – and they agreed. The students were attentive and engaged, and had intelligent questions. They were very sympathetic to how difficult it is to manage food allergies.

 

Both boys apologized to my son, explaining they had no idea about the severity of allergic reactions.

 

In the end, the incident brought my son and his classmates closer together. Looking back, it’s very easy to imagine a different outcome. But as my husband rightly points out, “Kids WANT to do the right thing and be supportive. Sometimes they don’t have enough facts to know how.”

 

Statistically, there are two students in every classroom with food allergies.  But that number is growing.  We need to teach our kids the facts about this condition, so they can act appropriately. And we need to teach them to be supportive of each other.  A lesson in food allergies is a lesson in empathy – and it just might save a life.

 

If your school doesn’t include food allergy education in their health curriculum, I encourage you to volunteer your time to do it yourself.

 

 

Three Sweet Ways to Say “I Love You” Dairy, Egg, Peanut and Tree Nut-Free February 11, 2016

Since we have the weekend to prep for Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d suggest three simple and sweet ways to brighten your Valentine’s day.  All three are easy to prepare, GREAT for classrooms and parties, and all are dairy, peanut, tree nut and egg free.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

Cupid’s Arrows

Grab some fruit and a cookie cutter and you have yourself one adorable (and healthy – shhhh…) fruit kabob!

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Sweetheart Sorbet Pie

Trickiest thing is remembering to prep this a few hours in advance.  And, then not eating it before presenting it to your sweetheart.

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Rice Krispie Hearts

Subbing out the dairy, makes these hearts safe and scrumptious.  If you have letter cookie cutters, you could also spell out the words, “LOVE” or “HUGS” or “XOXO”.  Infinite possibilities!

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Back to School Again! August 29, 2012

It’s that time again!  Some of you have already gone back to school while the rest of us are still preparing.  Now’s a great time to renew prescriptions for EpiPens and inhalers you may need to leave with the school nurse.  I’m republishing my post from last year which outlines my back-to-school process; including storing medications, ensuring safe snacks for my son, and preparing for special in-class celebrations.

 

Good luck to everyone on their first week!

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Starting a new school can be so exciting.  But it can also be daunting if you have a child with food allergies.  For some parents, this is the first time your child will be given food without your supervision.  And for others, it’s a point of transition to a new system for handling food allergies.  In both cases, it can be stressful.  But there’s a way to ease those nerves. Here’s how I would recommend handling everything to start your child’s year off right.

 
 

Understand Protocol:  First of all, talk to the school about your child’s food allergies and how they handle food allergies in general. It’s important to understand the standard procedures they have in place.

 

Store Emergency Medications:  Next, get a refill on your child’s EpiPens and keep them in their original packaging (most schools require this).  Keep two EpiPens at school (I kept ours in the classroom or at the nurse’s office) along with Children’s Benadryl.  Make a list of your child’s triggers and made a note of any symptoms he may have experienced to inform the teacher about his reactions.  In some cases, I didn’t know what my son’s reaction might be (thank goodness) so I deferred to my son’s pediatrician and allergist to give me a list of general reactions to look out for.

 

Ensure Safe Snack and Lunchtime:  Arrange a time to speak to your child’s teacher about snack and lunch.  Understand the process and how to work within it.  In my son’s case, the school provided snacks.  This originally horrified me.  I was uncomfortable about having the school give him snacks that I didn’t choose, but didn’t want him to feel left out if everyone was eating graham crackers and he was having rice cakes.  Thankfully, the school had a set snack list.  And, my son’s teacher took me through their snack closet and let me read the ingredients of every snack they provided.  Turns out he could safely eat eight of the ten snacks they regularly provided.  The teacher made a note of the two unsafe snacks and we agreed to substitute with a safe alternative on those days.

-OR- Leave a bag of safe snacks in the classroom for your child to choose from each day if that’s easier. Your child would probably be just as happy with that if you load up the safe snack bin with his/her favorites. Ask the teacher to let you know when you need to refill.

 

Prepare for Special Occassions:  Ask the teacher to alert you when in-class birthdays will be celebrated as well as any food-related holidays (think Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc).  I send in a SAFE alternative on those days or keep one in class depending on the class/teacher (and it doesn’t have to be cupcakes!  For example, my son loves Golden Oreos and considers them a special treat).  But the teacher NEEDS to keep you posted on that stuff or it can result in a lot of disappointment.  **I would also make yourself available to parents who are planning these parties if they need safe snack suggestions.**

 

Inform and Practice Social Situations for Food Safety:  Now’s a great time to talk to your child/refresh her knowledge about her food allergy in some basic terms.  It’s a good time to check out the books recommended here: Food Allergy Books For Young Children and here:  Helping Toddlers Understand Their Nut Allergies.  Arm him/her with some words to politely decline sharing offers and remind him to ask his teacher if he’s not sure of the safety of something.  Have your child practice with you so they feel more comfortable using these techniques at school.

 

Educate Peers:  Offer to inform the other students in your child’s class about food allergies.  Educating your child’s peers will empower them to keep him/her safe as well.  Many kids have no experience with food allergies at all.  Bring in a book about food allergies along with a safe snack for everyone to share.  Let them ask questions and let your child help answer some of those questions.  My son’s classmates were so supportive once they understood he couldn’t always share the snacks provided.  In several instances, his close friends offered to eat some of his safe snacks in solidarity with him during class parties.  And, by the way, nearly all of his pals now love Golden Oreos as a result.  And some classmates, will ask their parents NOT to pack peanut butter/nuts so they can safely sit next to my son at lunch.  How wonderful!

 

I hope my on-the-ground experience helps alleviate a little of those back-to-school jitters and gives you some ideas of how to proceed at your school.  I was nervous at first when my son began school, but it’s been great — allergies and all!

 

React? Act! April 25, 2012

Like a lot of people these days, my kids are sneezing up a storm from spring airborne allergies.  And, for my older son:  this often means an increase in his asthma.  As if the sniffling wasn’t bad enough!

 

After his first spring asthmatic reaction in school (a doozy – the kind that he hasn’t had in a long time!), we had a chat.  Knowing my son and his proclivity for following classroom rules,  I assumed correctly that my son was trying to wait until his lesson was over to let his teacher know he was wheezing.  That won’t do!  Not only is wheezing the first symptom of asthma, but can also be a symptom for a food allergy reaction.  We had to re-emphasize the importance of reporting to adults even if it means interrupting them or demanding their attention.

 

My husband and I told him that one of the FEW exceptions to following the school and classroom rules is when you don’t feel well. “If you are wheezing, you need to tell the teacher right away – even if she’s talking or teaching the class.  If you are at recess, find an adult in charge and tell THEM right away.”  We very calmly expanded the lesson to include food allergy symptoms, “If your belly feels sick, if you have hives or an itchy throat, you must also tell an adult right away.  Even if those feelings aren’t really bothering you yet. It’s important to let the nurse see what’s going on so you can get back to playing!”

 

Thankfully, my son digested this lesson very well.  Since this chat, he’s been speaking up and heading to the nurse to get a puff of his inhaler as needed.  Not only does it empower him, but it helps keep his wheezing from escalating to a full-blown asthma attack.

 

Our hope is that calmly and gently teaching kids to recognize signs of asthma and allergic reactions will make them feel in control and ultimately help protect them.

 

Teaching Teachers About Ingredient Lists February 29, 2012

I know that there’s an awful lot of extra things teachers need to do to watch over their kids during the school day.  In addition to instruction, teachers pay attention to physical and emotional health and socialization.  And, I hate to add to that list, but I think teachers need to learn to read food labels.

 

As we all know, food allergies are on the rise.  So much so, that in my son’s first grade class of 18 children, at least 6 kids have mild to severe food allergies not including his teacher who also is allergic to gluten.

 

In an effort to become more food allergy friendly, my son’s school began requiring parents to bring in ingredient lists for all food brought in from outside.  Whether it’s homemade or store-bought, all treats to be shared with other children (as in class parties, birthday celebrations, etc) need to be accompanied with a list of ingredient.  A good start, but who’s there to police it?  Parents are generally not given the “heads-up” on the food being served at these parties.  Therefore, it becomes the teacher’s job to read labels and ensure the treat’s safety for each child.  Imagine the job that is for my son’s class.  And, we have a food allergy-savvy teacher!

 

And, it’s not all about class parties. Take the case of the bird feeders (See Peanut-Free Bird Feeders: Lesson Learned) that our Hebrew school assured us were completely nut-free.  The administration sure could’ve used some lessons in reading labels!  Without the unprompted forethought from my son’s teacher, we would have assuredly had some problems.

 

Something about this system needs to change.  We need to either keep the party offerings to whole, healthy foods (and communicate with food allergic parents) or we need to teach the teachers how to read ingredient labels.  Or both.  It’s not hard to know what to look for when reading ingredient lists (we all learned!  See Food Allergies and Food Labels: What You Need to Know).  Plus, it could prove to be a valuable line of defense against a potential reaction.