As we ring in 2011, I have noticed a huge increase in the number of e-mails and posts I've received from parents facing new nut allergy diagnoses in their kids and I've even heard from several young adults with new nut allergies.
The most frequent word I hear is "overwhelmed." This is so understandable. It is overwhelming. The wealth of information alone (often conflicting) can be hard to absorb. Plus, you may wonder if you'll ever have a normal life again, if you will ever learn to decipher food labels and if your child can even go to school. You wonder if every food has the potential to harm your child and/or you. Life can seem very scary and very surreal.
I've been there and I can tell you that things improve. But I can't sugar coat the facts: your life will change, sometimes in ways you may not even foresee now. Some of the changes will be hard to deal with; some may even be positive in the long run. I can think of two positive changes: becoming healthier in our family eating habits and learning to be more assertive in life and ask for what we need. I also have a truly compassionate daughter whose own struggles have made her want to be helpful to others facing different challenges.
Food allergies are never welcome and they make life more difficult at times. But you can live well with them. Here are some things that have helped me and my family:
Seek expert medical advice from an allergist. I've found the best people to handle the medical aspects of food allergy have been our allergists. Find a board-certified allergist and then follow their advice. Keep up on yearly visits, appropriate testing and keep in contact with them about medications. An allergist will be more knowledgeable on food allergies than most pediatricians, not to knock them because they're helpful, too. But an allergist will be more up-to-date on the constantly changing aspects of food allergies and this will be invaluable to you.
Always stand firm about food allergies. You'll meet people who don't take food allergies seriously, who may even blow them off completely. Sometimes those closest to you won't accept the situation. Be prepared for it. Usually, ignorance about food allergies is the key reason. If you know that something is not safe then avoid the food, situation or if need be, the person until they "get it." Risking an allergic reaction to preserve any relationship is never worth it. As we saw recently in Chicago, food allergies can be fatal when not clearly understood or properly respected.
Be informed but don't overload on random info. This is the hardest thing because Internet access can uncover some crazy stories and information. Stick to respected resources such as The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, Allergic Living magazine and The Food Allergy Initiative for research and facts. (And I hope you'll visit me for lifestyle tips and food allergy news.) Overloading on stories of food allergy deaths or unproven medical information is never helpful and may be harmful.
Knowledge is half the battle. The good news is, if you're reading this you probably have received medication, medical advice and are just generally prepared to face a reaction if it occurs. Witnessing an allergic reaction without any knowledge of what may be causing it or without any medication to treat it is much, much worse. If you know what you're dealing with, you can avoid or safely adapt to potentially harmful situations and cut down on risk.
I want to wish a healthy and Happy New Year to you all! Let's be safe together and please continue to share your input and comments!