Friday, April 2, 2010

My Name is Sarah and I'm the Mother of a Child with Food Allergies

The more I learn about potentially fatal allergy, the more paranoid I become, and (in my opinion,) with good reason.  When Joel first reacted to a small smidge of peanut butter (at age 14 months,) the reaction terrified me.  Have you ever seen chemosis firsthand? I was going to include a picture, but decided if I want to continue to have site visitors, I should probably not include grotesque images.  So google it yourself if you like that kind of thing.  We took Joel to the ER, and over the next couple of hours, he continued to react, from a body covered in hives to labored breathing. 

Obviously we immediately removed all peanut products from our house, but I waited another year before taking him for official testing.  Even after seeing that initial reaction, I was floored when we received the results of the RAST (blood) test.  His test revealed that he is in the highest possible allergic category (100+, level 6.) To put this in perspective, a score above 15 is expected to result in anaphalatic reaction to peanut protein.  So 15 is probably fatal; he is off the charts.  Receiving that news was truly like being punched in the stomach over and over again.  After sharing the disappointing news, the allergist went on to explain Joel's other allergies, which we hadn't even been aware of. (He is also allergic to eggs, sesame, and soy. He's ingested those a number of times and I've never seen a reaction, so at this point in time the allergies are mild; that could change-- for better or for worse-- at any time.)

In these past few months, I've become more vigilent in learning what I can about this allergy and how best to protect Joel.  We will be participating in a research study in early summer, at which time both of his brothers will also be tested for a variety of allergies.  (Neither of the other two have had any exposure to peanuts since Joel's reaction, so we really have no clue what the results will show. Most kids are initially tested using a skin "scratch" test, but that is too risky for my crew, so they will all be doing blood tests instead.)

I don't think the "regular" population has a good grasp on the severity of these life-threatening allergies.  I know that I certainly didn't. It is really easy to assume a person is being overly cautious, and even just plain paraniod, but consider this:
Almost 31% of food products from Western Europe that don't have "nut warning" labels were found to have detectible levels of peanut protein;
62% of food products from Eastern Europe contained peanut protein, even without any warning on the label;
In a study, 12% of patients had some form of reaction when coming in close contact with a person who had ingested an allergy-inducing food.
(Hurray to the United States for actually requiring warning labels on all packaged foods. It isn't a fool-proof system, but it certainly helps.)

Other jaw-dropping news:
Household items that may contain top 8 allergens: Play-doh; paint; adhesives; medications; soaps; shampoos; lotions; makeup; stuffed toys (for instance, some bean bags are stuffed with ground up peanut shells); pet food; birdseed.
The highest risk settings for ingesting allergens by mistake: Buffets; Bakeries; Restaurants with premade meals; (for peanut) Asian restaurants

What does this all mean?  This means that, as a parent, it is my responsibility to become more aware than ever of the constant possible dangers that surround my child.  It means that, as holidays (such as Easter) come upon us, I'm not particularly keen on giving my kids chocolate bars (start checking the labels; you will be shocked at how many have peanut warnings listed); it means we will no longer be allowing any chocolates in our home that come from Europe (so long, Kinder... I will always love you.)  And it means that, yes, I am going to be one of those really annoying moms that gets upset if I visit your house and you bring out item with peanuts on or in it.  I realize you figure Joel won't eat it, but what happens if someone drops a bit of the food and he ingests it, or if someone decides to shake his hand after holding that food?  I've taken risks so far, and thankfully, he's been okay.  I let him eat foods prepared by others, even let him eat at restaurants; a recent near miss has quickly changed my mind on this one, though. 

In short, yes, I am going to become one of those aggravating, overprotective, shield-her-child-from-the-world-and-keep-him-in-a-bubble mothers.  Maybe, in due time, I will let my guard down.  Maybe I'll be able to send my child out the door without instant worry of whether or not his life is at risk.  Today's just not that day, and I'm guessing it's not tomorrow, either.

Curious about peanut allergies?  Think I'm going overboard?  Here's more info regarding peanut allergies, including how cross-contamination occurs: