It’s been four years to the day since we found out that Eva has severe allergies. I still remember that first allergy test – the three hour wait, the red welts, the nurse trying to show me how to use an Epi pen. I came home and filled bags up with all the food in the house that wasn’t safe to give our kid and when I was done I felt like someone needed to come in and reassure me that I was just being overdramatic and making a big show because surely that was too much stuff. I had bagged up 80% of whatever we had in the kitchen and we ended up with nothing but things like rice and mustard and baking soda. It couldn’t be that serious.
The next day we spent $300 on medication and put our cats up for adoption.
That feels like a really long time ago. I’m also happy that it no longer feels like the sky is falling, which is how everything felt for the first three months or so. Eva has allergies. She’s severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower, shellfish, and animal dander. And it’s fine. We manage.
15 things I’ve learned about food allergies in the last four years:
- It’s not as hard to eat around food allergies as you think it would be. Once you get used to cooking the basics at home, you have a lot of control over what your family eats.
- Food allergies can be expensive but they don’t have to be. If we bought Eva all the high-end nut-free snack products and specialty items at Whole Foods, the rest of us wouldn’t eat. Making accommodations by subbing in fresh fruit and homemade dessert is a cheaper fix and not all that inconvenient once you get used to it.
- You will have more people who try to protect your kid than people who fight you on it. For every complaint I’ve ever gotten from someone who doesn’t want to deal with Eva’s restrictions, I have twenty people who have gone out of their way to ask about safe foods, wipe their kids’ hands, and provide non-edible birthday treats.
- Eva isn’t the only kid out there with severe allergies. The popularity of the teal pumpkin project this Halloween just underlines how many kids are walking around with their Epi pens.
- Advocacy can get uncomfortable but parents are the first line of defense for allergy kids. After Eva’s first preschool gave her peanut butter, we accepted their apology and sent her back for the rest of the year even though we never felt as safe. Looking back, I wasn’t prepared to stand up for her and I’m so mad that I kept her in that dangerous situation for so long.
- People will try but they don’t know. Eva’s exposures to allergens have mostly been from people who think something is safe because they don’t know better. There are things that she’s allergic to that you’d never flag if you weren’t looking (cumin, potato chips, dried fruit, etc.) and using dry napkins or hand sanitizer doesn’t remove nut residue from hands or tables. I so appreciate the effort but we also double check everything.
- Other kids aren’t mean about it at this age. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about food allergy bullying, but we’ve never encountered anything like that first hand.
- Just because she’s been around something before doesn’t mean she won’t react to it next time. This seems to be especially true of animal dander. That stuff just sneaks up to get her.
- As terrifying as using the Epi pen is, it’s much worse to realize you need it and you aren’t sure if you have one on hand.
- Not being invited to birthday parties just stinks even if you think you’re protecting someone else’s kid. Trust the parents to make accommodations or bow out if the party won’t be safe. I’m firmly in the camp of including everyone now that we’ve experienced the whole-class-except-Eva guest list a few times over.
- Cracked skin from eczema leads to a higher chance of allergic reactions which can lead to illness/asthma which can increase skin cracks. Breaking the cycle with aggressive skin care saves a lot of stress in the long run.
- There are summer camps just for kids with food allergies to bond in a safe atmosphere away from parents who feel like they have to hover 24/7.
- If there’s an activity, sports team, or classmate’s parents who just refuses to make any kind of accommodation (or starts showing up with PB granola bars to make a point), sever that tie. It might be disappointing for your kid but in the long run, that’s not a relationship you guys needed anyway.
- If your school won’t accommodate your kid, that’s illegal. Any school that receives federal money (all public schools and most private schools) have to provide reasonable accommodations for any student with a medical condition like food allergies. You can set up a 504 plan to determine what those accommodations will be. (Granted, you might have to fight like hell to keep that thing enforced, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how on board most teachers are. They don’t want to kill your kid!)
- Living with severe food allergies gives your kid a good base to understand things like empathy, disability, independence, responsibility, and how their body systems work together. It’s not all bad!