Friday, February 26, 2010

Food Allergies Can't Keep a Good Girl Down

My oldest daughter will be 10 years old tomorrow (omg...that's the double digits as she likes to say) and it's given me time to reflect about our journey with nut allergies up till now.

I know that I've discussed our big and small triumphs here in the past (most recently with my post "Thriving with a Nut Allergy"). However, something about this "double digit" birthday makes me really grateful for how far we've come since our family first learned of Alex's life-threatening allergy to nuts.

A lot of you are reading this blog because you've recently discovered your own child's allergy. I find out when my child was 4 years old and I know that many of you learned sooner. When you first get this diagnosis, it's so scary and can seem really disheartening once you realize how much it affects daily life. I still have my good days and bad days.

However, as my daughter reaches her 10th birthday, I'm very proud of how much she's been able to do and how confident she has become about handling her allergy issues.

For those of you new to this, here is some of my advice, some of it learned the hard way. :)

- Never let your child feel like they can't do something just because of their allergy. In fact, we've sometimes given our daughter a gentle nudge out into the world to prove that she can handle certain situations. Now that she's older, she initiates independence. That's really important to us since she is the one who will be caring for her allergy in the future.

- Be cautious, but keep things as normal as possible. Caution is key but so is a normal childhood in terms of things like birthday parties, camp and extracurricular activities. If you take all the proper precautions things will generally go well. Volunteering to help out at these activities when your kids are younger will help both of you feel more secure. Most important, don't focus too much on your child being the "allergy kid" beyond making certain an activity is safe for them.

- On the other hand, don't beat yourself up for the things you can't do. Trying every new restaurant is just not on our family agenda; likewise, sleepovers are off-limits except for very close friends of the family who we trust. Some things just aren't worth it and we stick to firm rules about them. Instead of focusing on what we can't do safely, we celebrate the things that we can.

- Realize that as your child gets older, your role as a parent must adapt to their growing independence. My daughter often reminds me these days that she knows what to do about her allergy and not too hover over her too much. In fact, there have been several situations where she exercised caution all on her own. She's still too young to be completely free of parental involvement, but I try to show her that I trust her to handle things when appropriate. It's been a real confidence-booster for her as well as a lesson in taking charge of her own allergy.

Now the flip side: Vigilance around high-risk foods can never let up. Until there is a cure for nut allergies, the risk of reaction must never be discounted. Sometimes we let our guard down if we've gone a long time without a reaction. This is a mistake--you can never plan when a reaction will occur. Stay vigilant with regard to foods and situations and keep teaching your child to stay vigilant while still encouraging their independence.

Just so everyone knows, I'm hosting next week's "Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival" so if you're an allergy blogger, please submit an article. I need them in by March 3rd (next Wednesday). Thanks!


Colette said...

Great suggestions Jenny!

jenny said...

Happy birthday to the girl who has the double digit birthday! (that is so cute... oops, probably the word cute is no longer appropriate for her... about smart and funny!)

Again, not only she is a wonderful pre-teen who handles her food allergy well, but your job as an allergy mom is equally impressive. I love the fact that you tirelessly answer new comers' questions. We all have lots to learn from everyone and hope one day soon, when the cure is on the horizon, we will read those blogs with a big smile and say : " wow, those were the scary days, glad it's over thanks to the research teams!"

Unknown said...

These are great tips. It's so easy to get overwhelmed when you're first diving into all the peanut allergy stuff. My allergic son turns 10 in April.

Anonymous said...

do you know if regular air popped orville redenbaker popcorn is safe for peanut allergy? i have stayed away from air popped corn ever since i saw a warning on a label once...

Colette said...

Anon -- I just happen to have a container of Orville Redenbacher's gourmet popping corn original sitting in my cabinet. The only ingredient is corn. There is no allergy warning label. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

yes, thank you, that does help. Even after I thoroughly read labels, i find myself looking around wanting another opinion. constantly second guessing everything i give her!

Shelby said...

Hi there...I stopped in through another blog who was doing "Friday Follow". My daughter was allergy tested last year (at 3.5). We knew already that she was allergic to peanuts as well as walnuts. We do know that the results of her allergy test showed she was highly allergic to peanuts (as high as the numbers go) but no allergies shown to tree nuts. We know that has to be wrong as she's shown huge breakouts after carrot cake w/ walnuts in it.

Anywhoo...I'm sure you've heard all this before. We are really learning as we go. Luckily it is a smidge easier for us to keep her away from nuts as we homeschool but I know we can't always be there.

I'm following you!!
stop in and see us if you get the chance!!


Jenny said...

Hi Shelby, thanks for following! I'll stop by your blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this blog! Just wondering if your daughter's allergy has gotten worse over the years and if you've ever had to use an epi-pen? I'm really scared from stories I have heard that it gets worse with each exposure (even if very small and no reaction or little reaction) - 3 year just diagnosed. Thank you, Kathy

Jenny said...

Hi Kathy,

That's a good question and I don't know the answer. My dr. has not wanted to re-test until my daughter is a teen because her initial peanut allergy blood test (as well as some tree nuts) were so high. It's kind of like, what's the point, since her allergy is very severe.

She has not had a major reaction since the first one--knock wood!!!! This is because we have been extremely careful and cautious about what she eats. I'd say that's the biggest thing--not where she goes or what she does but what she is actually ingesting.

I've never used the EpiPen but I would in a second if she exhibited the progressive symptoms that warranted it.

I understand your fear because I had it initially, too, but hang in there. You'll learn how to deal with this. Please keep reading my blog and stay in touch!