Thursday, May 15, 2008

A day in the life of food allergies

Do you have any idea what it's like to live in a constant state of fear every single day, hoping and praying that your child will come home from school not only happy and safe, but more importantly alive? No? Or how about having an instant panic attack the moment the phone rings for fear of hearing the voice of the principal or a teacher on the other end saying those words you so dread to hear…"your child is on his/her way to the hospital in an ambulance". Still no? Okay, let's try this one on for size…Have you ever had to witness your child covered in hives, wheezing, coughing, struggling to breathe with fear in his eyes and knowing that something is terribly wrong? Again your answer is no? Then I'm guessing your child doesn't have food allergies. I'm not talking about lactose intolerance or just a so called "food sensitivity". I'm talking Life Threatening Food Allergies…as in a miniscule bite of the wrong food could result in death within minutes. That's the fear I live with every day. My youngest son, Brody age 8, has life threatening food allergies to Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, and Shellfish. For Brody, these seemingly harmless foods are literally poison to his body.

Food allergies are on the rise with the total number of people having food allergies doubling over the past 10 years. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (, it is estimated that more than 12 million Americans have food allergies. This results in more than 30,000 emergency room visits and between 150-200 deaths annually.

Unfortunately there is no known cure for food allergies. All you can do is strictly avoid the foods you are allergic to and always, always, always (did I mention always?) have an EpiPen (a self-injectable shot of Adrenaline) with you. Sounds simple enough? Well think again. Do you have any idea how many processed foods contain milk, egg, and nuts? With food allergies you have to read ingredient labels on everything you buy/eat…every single time. No mater how many hundreds of times you may have purchased the exact same product, you still need to check the label because ingredients and manufacturing procedures can change at any given time without notice. This has happened to us. I had purchased one product many, many times and then all of a sudden it contained milk. If I had not read the label each and every time, who knows what may have happened to my little boy. And even if a product doesn't contain the food allergen, if it was produced in the same factory as another product containing that ingredient, you can still have a serious allergic reaction to even just trace amounts of the allergen through cross contamination. It is an exhausting and never-ending battle we fight.

I think the hardest part of dealing with food allergies though would have to be when friends and family (especially family) just don't "get it". You would think (and hope) that family would want to do everything in their power to help keep your child safe. Unfortunately this isn't always the case and unless they witness an allergic reaction with their own eyes, they just don't seem to understand just how serious food allergies truly are. On the upside, we do have several amazing friends and family members who are willing to do absolutely anything to keep Brody safe when we are in their homes. You guys rock!

Bottom line is that food allergies are life-changing. Life is very different for us compared to families without food allergic kiddos. Sure, I wish that we could just spontaneously go out to eat wherever we please or even just go grocery shopping and throw whatever our heart desires into the cart without even a second thought instead of spending hours reading ingredient labels, but that's just not the way life is for us. There is only one restaurant we feel comfortable letting Brody eat at…and even then I sometimes wonder if we are playing Russian Roulette. It breaks my heart when my little boy comes home from school upset because another child brought in cupcakes for their birthday without the parents giving me a "heads-up" so I can make sure Brody has something similar and doesn't feel left out. Or the days when none of his friends want to sit with him at the "peanut free lunch table". How about the fact that Brody doesn't get invited to birthday parties…I'm guessing because the parents just don't know what to do about his allergies and are too ignorant to call and ask! All of these situations can really take an emotional toll on our family, but I can tell you one thing…managing food allergies may be a huge part of Brody's life, but he'll always be an incredible, fun-loving, awesome little boy in my book and I foresee extraordinary things in his future!

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