Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

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!

 

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Identifying and Recognizing Emotions May 2, 2017

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As parents, we’re reliant on our children to express themselves.  And as food allergy parents, knowing how they feel is our best barometer for understanding how our kids are handling their food allergies, what’s going on around them vis-a-vis food and friends and what’s on their mind.  And, in order to do that, kids must first be able to recognize and identify those emotions.

 

But how (and when) do we begin?

There’s no such thing as too young to start this conversation.  Whether your kids are 2 or 22, getting in touch with how you’re feeling at a given moment can clarify almost any situation, reduce stress and make way for better decision-making.

 

Here are a few ways to get started:

1.  Puts Words to Feelings:  Let your children know that their emotions have names.  Point out those feelings as you see them.  “It looks like doing art makes you feel calm;” “When your brother takes your toys without asking, that makes you angry;” “Wow, you are really excited about going to the zoo today!”

 

2.  I Second that Emotion:  My own daughter (now 4) gets upset and will say, “I am feeling so mad right now!”  This leads me to a second point: validate their feelings.  Praise your children when they express themselves verbally.  When my daughter tells me she’s mad I usually respond by saying, “I’m sorry you’re mad about something.  BUT, I’m really proud of you for letting me know how you’re feeling.”  This lets her know that being mad is okay.  And, it encourages her to keep talking to me about her emotions.

 

3.  Read, Discuss, Repeat:  Books are great tools for learning and describing emotions as well as helping your child identify the feelings of others.  Some great books to start with are:

Today I Feel Silly, by Jamie Lee Curtis

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, by Jo Witek

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings, by Anna Llenas

The Way I Feel, by Janan Cain

 

But you don’t need a special book to talk about emotions.  Even when reading a child’s favorite, you can help him/her explore and identify how the characters are feeling.  Ask them, “How do you think Madeline felt when she fell from the bridge?”  “Is Trixie happy when she realizes she lost her lovey?” “What is Harry thinking and feeling when he’s living at the Dursley’s?” “How would you feel if you were a firefighter headed to a fire?”  With older kids, you can even pause a movie or TV show and chat about what a character might be experiencing psychologically.

 

4.  Touch Base:  Don’t ignore opportunities to check in with your child about their food allergies.  Parents often need to walk a fine line between acknowledging the pain, exclusion and frustration and keeping things *positive*.  We are quick to brush aside things that cause our kids pain and sadness and paint it over with positivity and sunshine.  But we need to recognize and call out those negative emotions too – because regardless of our rose-colored glasses, our kids are likely experiencing all of the emotions (good and bad) that come along with food allergies.

 

Recently, when my 12 year old son and I learned that his number one favorite treat, Krispy Kreme doughnuts would no longer be safe for him, we stopped to talk about it.  He acknowledged how insanely frustrated he felt and how disappointing this news was.  He felt depressed and disheartened – not over a doughnut exactly but rather over another example of food options that more-often-than-not shrink and exclude him.  After mockingly shaking our fists in rage and putting a name on everything he was feeling, my son was able to move on emotionally and focus on other special desserts he could look forward to.

(more…)

 

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.