Friday, June 25, 2010

Having Peanut Allergies Doesn't Mean You Can't Strut Your Stuff

This was a tough week for peanut allergies. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) decided to back off its proposal for an airline peanut ban after pressure from peanut farmers (but hopefully not from numerous ignorant, hateful comments they received from folks not in the know but very creative with their language).

McDonald's introduced a new Reese's Peanut Butter Cup "McFlurry" rendering a former nut allergy-friendly restaurant questionably safe for those with peanut allergies. (More on that development in a future post.)

Some of this stuff has gotten me down and it's gotten many of you down. So I thought it was time to share a positive story from our family.

Many people viewing this blog have very young kids who have been recently diagnosed with severe peanut and/or tree nut allergies. The first thought we have when this happens is how our kids are going to coexist in the "nutty" world we live in.

For example, parents have worries about school, sports, extracurricular activities and any type of normal social life. They worry that this will be impossible for their kids. I know that I worried this way and it's a natural worry. Food affects all parts of life and peanut butter is a number one risk at any school.

So let me tell you about what I witnessed last night. My 10-year-old daughter was in a production of High School Musical Jr. (for younger kids) as part of a theater camp. She didn't have a big role--it was her first play and she was cast as a Wildcats Cheerleader. The cast was huge--she was up there with dozens of other kids most of the time.

This is exactly the kind of thing I wondered if she could ever do. Because kids are eating peanut butter right and left, it's going everywhere and if there's peanut butter there is always risk of reaction.

All of this is still true. But this girl had a huge smile on her face the entire show--she was having the time of her life. She was confident and happy and it showed.

Risks were undoubtedly part of this experience as they always are. Backstage, I told her to watch what she eats (we packed her own snacks of course) and not to share certain makeup (especially lipstick--goes on the mouth!) with other cast members. When questioned after the show, she told me she had followed all of our rules and even read the label of foundation makeup before it was applied.

I know I've written about this before, but for those of you who are new to my blog, I want to reassure you that the lessons sink in. When you teach your severely allergic kids how to cope, they will. And then you can sit back and enjoy them as I did last night.

Both of my daughters were in shows last night and they were both fabulous. For the first time, I really felt some of my worry subside regarding my oldest and her allergies. She is growing and learning how to be independent and the proof was right onstage for me to see.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Peanut Allergy Story in the Oklahoman Newspaper: Here's What I Had to Say

Yesterday I was contacted regarding this news story in the Oklahoman newspaper that discussed the possible peanut ban in airlines.

It's interesting to see how this story plays where peanut crops and/or farming are of big concern. Obviously, those in this industry will have certain opinions. For instance, the beginning of the story references a very allergic little girl, whose dad (a farmer) opposes a peanut ban because it would hurt the peanut farming industry.

OK, I don't want farmers to lose money, but that's not the point. No one dealing with a peanut allergy wants farmers to suffer. But whether or not farmers will suffer economically has nothing to do with the safety of allergy sufferers being exposed in-flight and having severe allergic reactions in a plane. And I'll go out on a limb and say that peanuts are so prevalent in American society that I don't think an airline ban on peanuts is going to sink that industry. Take it from me--peanuts and tree nuts are everywhere, in so many foods it's almost mind-boggling.

An EpiPen and "awareness" (read the story) are great things--but they don't solve everything. Currently the only way to effectively manage a peanut allergy -- or any food allergy -- is through strict avoidance of the allergen.

So what does that have to do with economics or politics? Nothing. Why are we still making allergies about economics or politics when it's really about public health?

Economics are a big player in what will decide this issue. What about all the loss of ticket sales that the airlines currently suffer from those affected by allergies? Many people write to me and say they will refuse to fly because of the peanut issue.

And what about cigarette bans in bars, planes and restaurants? This probably hurt the tobacco farmers. Should cigarettes be allowed in these public places so that tobacco farmers don't suffer economic hardship? Apparently not, since this ban went into effect.

The bottom line is that, for whatever reason, economic hardship is the trump card being played by people who don't get -- or don't care -- that food allergies can cause instaneous, needless death.

With the rise in all kinds of food allergies, soon everyone will "know" someone with this condition and with that, I hope the compassion grows.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kane County Cougars go Peanut Free and More Peanut Free Baseball

Summer is in full swing and at this time of year I get many questions from readers about peanut free baseball games. If you're in Illinois, mark your calendars for the Kane County Cougars--they are completely peanut-free on July 14th! Visit their web site for more details.

In addition, Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz has a list of current peanut-free baseball games on her sister site. Click the link to discover who is having peanut-free games and/or sections and when these games are.

Many major league teams now offer peanut-free games and/or designated seating including the Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks and the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, the Cubs and the White Sox do not have peanut-free days yet, but I did read that the Cubs' new owners are looking into this. I hope they do--I contacted them about this recently and am going to follow up. If you live in Chicago, feel free to contact them about peanut-free baseball as well. Peanut shells litter Wrigley Field and it's currently pretty tricky for allergic fans to attend their games.

If you are baseball fans, support these peanut-free days by showing up whenever possible! Going out to the ball game is a fun family activity and we'd love to see more peanut-free sporting events. What's going on with peanut-free sports in your community? Let us know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peanut Allergy and Air Travel: Make Your Voices Heard!

I recently blogged about the current evaluation by the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding the proposed ban on peanuts for all airlines and I'm talking about it again because it's so important. This story is getting a lot of media attention and the food allergy naysayers are out in full force. It's time to speak out because many who oppose the ban are pushing back--hard. We need to show our numbers and strength here, not to mention the very good reasons why this food should be banned from air travel.

Peanuts and tree nuts aren't required to keep airplane engines aloft. People won't die if they are denied peanuts and tree nuts for a couple of hours--but in-cabin exposure to this serious allergen can cause death or life-threatening reactions. People don't choose to have a life-threatening food allergy and shouldn't be denied safe passage on a public conveyance because of this medical condition, all because of a snack that is easily replaced.

Please click this link to the FAAN page about this and you'll find the DOT link that will allow you to comment on this. FAAN also offers advice and direction on using the DOT link, so check that out too.

We have until August 9th, so please make your voices heard! So many people are making ignorant comments and remarks, downplaying peanut and tree nut allergies and portraying those in support of a ban as being overprotective and even "un-American." I guess having allergies isn't American?? In any case, please state your case calmly and share your personal airline stories if you have them.

You CAN make a big difference here. Remember, smoking used to be allowed on airlines, too. So did liquids bigger than 1 oz. Things change. People will get used to peanut/tree nut ban on airlines. But we must speak up.

So click here to find the link to DOT and then share your comments with the government. They want to know how we feel--and how often does that happen???--so let's tell them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy: Tips on Staying Safe at Summer Parties

Summer is party time and of course you need to be careful about peanut and tree nut allergies during this warm and wonderful season. With a few precautions and some common sense, a good time can be had by all. Here are some things that have worked for me and my family:

Talk about it. When you reply to an invitation, notify your hosts immediately about any food allergies or dietary restrictions. It's nice to give them advance notice so that they can tailor the menu or ask you to bring a dish.

Bring the dessert. Most people with food allergies have to avoid desserts from bakeries or even other people's kitchens because of cross-contact concerns or because they can't eat the ingredients--nuts, eggs, wheat. Offering to bring at least one of the sweet treats ensures that your family members will be able to enjoy dessert with everyone else.

Beware of double-dipping. A perfectly "safe" food can become allergenic if the same utensils used for one dish are then used in another. Buffets can become danger zones for this reason. If you are invited to a buffet, either ask to serve your child first or bring your child a separate main dish that only they will eat.

Consider the grill. Grills can become a food allergy nightmare due to marinades containing peanut butter, nut oils or dairy items and/or potentially allergenic proteins like seafood. (Or hamburger buns, if you've got wheat allergy or celiac disease). You might want to invest in a Smokey Joe (small size BBQ) to tote along to a party. That way, you can grill away without worry.

Own the allergy. Don't be afraid to bring your own food or to share your allergy concerns with your hosts. An upbeat explanation of why your child (or you) can't eat a particular food beats staying at home. In the end, it's more important that you enjoy time with friends and family than what you eat while you're there.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Food Allergy Guidelines for Illinois Schools Now Available!

Illinois lawmakers recently passed legislation regarding required guidelines for dealing with food allergies in all Illinois schools. The great news is that these guidelines are already available online.

Most schools in the various districts around the state will most likely adopt these policies and tailor them, if necessary, to their schools' needs.

Many people worked tirelessly to get this passed and also to create the food allergy guidelines documents. A big thank you to all of them!

If you don't live in Illinois and are having trouble getting food allergy guidelines in your state, send this link along to your state government reps as a model of how to implement these policies.

If you do live in Illinois and are having trouble with your school, please refer them to this new food allergy guidelines link for direction and help.

I'm so excited that this was finished before the next school year. Again, thanks to all the parents and state reps who made this possible!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Food Allergies and Summer Day Trips: Like the Boy Scouts Say, "Be Prepared"

With summer, comes day trips and with that comes a need to prepare for all the eventualities. Getting kids ready to go anywhere seems like a military maneuver at the best of times, but when you've got kids with food allergies you've got to take a few more precautionary steps. I got to thinking about this during a recent visit to Brookfield Zoo, located just outside Chicago. But anywhere we go this summer--the zoo, an amusement park, the beach--will require the same level of prep.

So, here they are--my tips for successful summer day-trippin' with food allergies:

1. Get yourself an insulated "cooler" shoulder bag. The Brookfield Zoo, like many other family-friendly day trip destinations allows you to bring your own food. I bought a chic insulated bag from Thermos (TM) and it was a godsend on our recent zoo trip. During one of my numerous trips to Target, I grabbed this cute, diaper bag-sized tote and some freezer packs for keeping sammies and drinks chilled. The extra front pockets were useful for the EpiPens, my wallet and assorted sundries so I didn't have to bring a separate purse. The best part--it wasn't huge and didn't weigh a ton and wasn't awkward like some of those big cooler bags.

2. Bring placemats for the picnic table. Since you just never know if the last family was packing peanut butter (and let's face it, they probably were), be ready to protect the table for your child. Besides offering protection from forbidden foods, it also just seems a lot more hygienic.

3. Locate the First Aid station upon arrival. You may never need it, but it's good to know where it is in the event of emergency.

4. Check and double-check that you have your EpiPens before departure. I don't know about you, but I seem to constantly be transferring my items from bag to bag all summer long. You don't want to leave the EpiPen behind, only to discover that it's missing upon arrival at your destination. I place Post-It notes on my dashboard to remind me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Peanut Allergy News: Peanuts May Be Banned from U.S. Flights

Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz recently alerted me to the fact that the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering removing peanuts from airlines because of the risk of allergic reaction in the air. To show your support for this policy, click this link.

Currently if you decide to travel by air with a peanut allergy, it's possible to have a flight where the snack is not peanuts but many airlines insist on serving them no matter what. "Buffer zones" have been offered but are a contradiction in terms. If the airline is recognizing that surrounding an allergic person with peanuts are a hazard to their health, then just don't serve them. The cabin of an airplane is not a place where you want to have an allergic reaction, when you've got literally minutes to get medical treatment or possibly die.

Some of the early commenters think that peanuts should be replaced by cashews. I think all peanuts and tree nuts should be banned or limited on airlines. Most people with peanut allergies also have to avoid tree nuts. I fear that if peanuts are banned, they will be replaced with almonds or some other tree nut. That doesn't help most of us and I don't think the airlines necessarily know that. Also, for some reason, even though many other types of substances and behaviors aren't allowed on public conveyances like airplanes, the thought that peanuts may not be on offer has some people going GAGA. And I don't mean like "Lady." They are steamed at the thought of having an alternative snack. Some people also think that if allergic people simply avoid the snack, it's all good. Unfortunately, that is not true. You guys know the drill, but so many don't.

So, please share your experiences at the link! Also, if you'd like more support on this, Jennifer B and I created a Facebook group called "You Don't Need Nuts to Fly." Members share their airline stories--good, bad and ugly---and give each other advice about how to handle air travel in this nutty world. Visit and look up our group name to find the link.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Food Allergy Backlash Again!--A Great Rebuttal by the Editor of Allergic Living Magazine

This article by Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living magazine, discusses the latest food allergy backlash that is based on news articles and faulty reporting. It is a must-read--but be aware, it wasn't published in Allergic Living. Many commenters at the end of the story are horribly ill-informed and they make the case for Ms. Smith's story with their ignorant remarks.

To all the parents out there: if your kids have had a serious reaction and they've had positive tests for food allergies, stay strong and don't let yourself be challenged by people who don't believe you. Ms. Smith has the right idea. You can't "tough out" a food allergy. You can't "make up" an allergic reaction involving swelling of the face and wheezing. You don't "imagine" dangerous drops in blood pressure or closed airways.

One thing many commenters complain about is that they are limited in their ability to send peanut butter (and in some cases, tuna fish) because of "one student." Usually it's more than one, these days, but one way we can help is offering lunch suggestions to our classrooms. What do you send with your child? If we have some options for school lunches that are allergy-friendly, that will help quiet down some of the parental objections to limiting certain foods.

For many people who have been recently diagnosed with peanut allergies or food allergies, I apologize in advance for the people who will not believe your child has a serious medical condition. Don't let it throw you. Gwen Smith's article makes some great points and I'm so glad she wrote it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Being a Peanut Allergy Mom Is Like Being a Goalie for the Blackhawks

Watching the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup finals yesterday, I couldn't help but be impressed by their nearly superhuman goalie, Niemi. Pucks were flying and he was catching them and blocking them like crazy. I think he blocked 27 shots in all, just in Monday's game.

I could identify with him a little bit. Sometimes, dealing with peanut and tree nut allergies feels like that, especially at the end of the school year.

All of the food involved these last 2 weeks of school have been like flying pucks. Zing! Here comes ice cream day! Bam! It's the Fun Lunch! What are they having?? Is it safe? Better check! Zoom! It's the end of year party and here come more frozen treats!

As moms of kids with nut allergies or any food allergies, we are constantly blocking the shots, i.e. intercepting unsafe foods from our kids. No wonder we get tired sometimes. As tired as the goalie Niemi felt last night, I'm feeling his pain. The end of the school year is a near-constant food fest and there is food allergy risk around every corner.

While the Blackhawks will have a Stanley Cup to show for their efforts if they keep up the wins, we have something equally as good to show for our efforts: a healthy, happy child. And if we get through the year safely, parents, I'm counting on all of us to celebrate like Stanley Cup-winning hockey stars. Well, maybe not exactly like that. :) But celebrate! You've earned it.