03 April 2015

5 Actions to Take Immediately When You Learn About Your Child's Peanut Allergy

Disclosure: The following content is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The following statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products mentioned and/or information listed are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider.

As you may know, my daughter has a severe peanut allergy. She was diagnosed with this allergy when she was just 11 1/2 months old. Being a young and first time mom at the time, I really had no clue she had this allergy until the moment she ate a peanut butter cookie, and even then I wasn't too sure. I was so unfamiliar with food allergies, I doubted myself that much and had to hear it from the ER doctor that she needed to go to an allergist and get tested for a peanut allergy. That day, when my daughter's throat started swelling, she was choking on her vomit and passing out all at once-- my daughter went into anaphylactic shock, and it was the most horrific and terrifying moment in my life. 

Up until that moment, my daughter suffered from face eczema. I always thought it was because she sucked a Nuk and her saliva was causing her rash. Once we officially learned of her severe peanut allergy, we quickly put two and two together realizing she was breaking out in eczema because we were eating peanut butter and kissing her all the time. Heart breaking...I was causing her nasty, bloody at times, face rash. 

These pictures of my daughter's eczema are not near as bad as some days were back then. It would get much worse and bleed even.

The next days, months and years to come were a continual learning experience for both my husband and I, even for our family and friends. Neither of us were educated on food allergies that caused anaphylaxis. My older brother was allergic to some tree nuts growing up, which would cause him to have an itchy throat. That was the extent to my knowledge of food allergies. 

So what are some immediate actions you need to take in your home and life once you learn your child has a life threatening food allergy from the allergist? The following actions are geared towards peanuts, but should be taken for any life threatening food your child may be allergic to.

1. Go through your kitchen pantry/cabinets and throw away all peanut butter, peanuts and food products that may contain peanuts, and are processed/manufactured in the same facility as peanuts. Or at least keep foods that are processed in the same facility as peanuts far out of reach, so no accidental ingestion occurs.

      This first step was harder than I realized, for me. I remember the day my husband and I came home from the allergist and we threw away a ton of food. Not only was it hard for me to "let go" of peanut butter (because at the time I was obsessed with peanut butter), I was annoyed at how much food was now unsafe for my daughter. So many products may contain peanuts, and even more products are made in or manufactured in the same facility as peanuts. Now, why throw away bread, pretzels or crackers that are made on the same equipment or in the same facility as peanuts? Because of cross contamination. The slightest bit of peanut pieces or even peanut dust could be on those foods, and the slightest bit of peanut dust can make your severe peanut allergy child have a reaction. 

2. Get familiar with reading food labels, and make it a natural habit. Especially when food shopping.

      Reading food labels may seem intimidating, and at first it might seem hard. You'll quickly learn that it's really not difficult and that most if not all food companies list the major allergens at the end of the ingredients list (in bold usually). You will also have to scan the food product to see if it mentions it was processed on the same equipment as peanuts, or made in the same facility as peanuts. 

      Do not just assume a safe food is also safe in a different flavor or product from the same company. Example, a 100% whole wheat bread may be completely safe from said brand, but the White Whole Grain bread from the same company may not be safe, because it's made in a separate facility where peanuts are around. 

      Recheck foods you know are safe, because without warning the company could have changed processing plants or added products that now contain peanuts into their facility, making that "safe" food you know of, no longer safe.

      Read ALL food labels on the products you are going to buy, even dairy products. I remember I ran into the store last year to grab an 8oz cream cheese. Out of habit I read the label and saw that it may contain peanuts....!! So weird! It was an off brand cream cheese, so I then grabbed Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese and that was and is safe. Always always read food labels!!

3. Educate yourself on peanut allergies, and what anaphylaxis is.

      Read up on a lot of material from well known sources, so that when people ask you what anaphylaxis is, you can answer them correctly. Take charge in understanding your child's severe peanut (or other food) allergy. Their life is at risk.

4. Inform your family and friends about your child's food allergy.

      Like you, your family and friends never want anything bad to happen to your child. Inform them of your child's allergy, provide them with food allergy information including explaining what anaphylaxis is, and tell them everyone in your life is getting the information so no one is offended (although who cares if they are, you are here to protect your child and that includes educating the people around you). One of the most important things is to have your loved ones understand the severity of your child's severe peanut allergy, including how to read food labels. They might not understand (and that's okay, I didn't at first either), but they will want to fully understand so that they do not accidentally give something unsafe to your child when you're not around. 

5. If you haven't already, get a prescription for an EpiPen or Auvi-Q. EpiPens are what we have, and they do come available for young children which are called EpiPen Jr. They come in packs of 2, and a practice (fake) EpiPen comes with it so that you can show care takers, family members and friends how to use it in case you are not around and your child needs it. You need to always have your child's EpiPen with you, or if they're older, they need to have it with them. There are emergency medical cases you can get (AllerMates has a few nice insulated ones) that we recommend. Always, always have your child's emergency allergy medicine with them... you just never know when they might need it. 

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