Adjusting to Food Allergies

Adjusting to Food Allergies
When my second son was young, he was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. It was “easy” to avoid dairy. He was little and didn’t know differently. If he was around other people who were eating dairy products, he was fine. I only had to worry about him and what he was putting in his mouth - not what was going on around him.

Recently, that same son was diagnosed with wheat and yeast allergies (no, not celiac’s disease - not gluten sensitivity - just wheat). he’s older now and - as we adjust his eating - it’s frustrating. But, I still don’t have to worry about what others around him are eating.

I have family and friends whose children have more severe allergies. Their children have nut allergies and can have an anaphylactic response just by being near someone who is eating or recently ate nuts. These children are not safe being in the vicinity of nuts or “smelling the air” of nuts.

What I have discovered through my own journey and from watching others is that our children are more compassionate for the needs of their friends than we are. Parents with non-allergic children are not pleased when they are told that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches should stay home from school.

Schools across the country now have nut-free environments - whether it’s a classroom, a lunch table, or school snack rules. When your child eats nothing but peanut butter and jelly for lunch, I understand how difficult that change is. But, I also understand the desperation and the fear of the parent who has the child with food allergies and not because I am one of them. Perhaps I understand because I was a child and am an adult with severe allergies to dogs, cats, and horses. In my childhood, there were several emergency room visits for extreme asthma attacks. They were frightening, unmanageable, and life-threatening.

If you are a parent of a child with severe food or other allergies, here are some baseline suggestions for adjusting your lives.

Education Become as educated as you possibly can about allergies, and do not be afraid to share that information with others. They won’t understand. They may argue with you or try to debate whether or not the allergy is truly that serious. Stand your ground and advocate for the needs of your child. Be prepared to put in the time and the energy.

Connect Create a support group around you. Locate other parents who have dealt with food allergies. Read their blogs. Join their forums. Make use of those sounding boards when you are sending your child to a birthday party, away to summer camp, or to a new school. Seek out resources at your doctor’s office for additional support. Make friends with the school nurse. When others want to argue with you or become angry that they cannot send peanut butter and jelly to school, you will feel stronger if you have a support group behind you.

Involve your child As early as possible, empower your child to be involved in her own care. Help her learn how to describe her allergies to others. Help her know what it means for a food to be “safe”. I’ll bet money her friends will want to be involved in making sure she takes care of herself. Make sure your child knows when she is experiencing allergic symptoms and what signals an allergic reaction in her body.

Take care of yourself Dealing with food allergies can be taxing. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of thought and planning. Make sure you have time to decompress. Identify friends who you can comfortably leave your child with when you need a break.

If you have a friend whose child has severe allergies, here are a few things you can do to support your friend:

Take it seriously When you don’t experience something directly, it is more difficult to understand but that doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive. Be there for your friend by listening to her when she needs to talk, helping her find answers, and being a safe place for her and her child.

Do your research Understand the allergy - What happens when the child is exposed to the allergen? What steps does the family take to ensure the child’s safety and how can you make your home safe for him when he comes for a visit? Know what symptoms to look for in the case of a reaction, and know how to respond.

Create a safe space Take extra steps to ensure your friend is comfortable leaving her child in your care. Have safe snacks on hand. Make sure she doesn’t forget her epipen or other medicines she may need while in your care. Educate your child so he knows how to care for his friend.

In the beginning, living with food allergies can be especially complicated. Hopefully, you are part of a compassionate community who will help to make the transition as easy as possible for you. You’ll want to spend all of your time identifying foods that are safe and yummy for your child instead of explaining to others why they cannot send peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school anymore.

These are some very basic steps to help you adjust to living with food allergies. Please make the connections to find more in depth support through your journey. It does take a village.

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