I will never forget the day I realized my daughter had a true allergy with cashew nuts. Another of my children, who is dairy free, decided to make tomato soup. The recipe called for dairy milk to create the creaminess, so we looked for substitutes. We opted for cashew milk, which would provide a similar consistency.
At lunch, two of my children and I sampled the soup. Within half an hour my youngest daughter developed a rash and severe diarrhea. What was the deal? I realized something was up, but didn’t put the two together until several weeks later when we were traveling in Chicago. I pulled out individual packets of pistachios for the kids to snack on in the car. My daughter ate a few then claimed she had a stomach ache, refusing the rest. A quick internet search told me that children who are allergic to cashew nuts are also likely to be allergic to pistachios.
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Although my daughter’s initial reactions were not life threatening, a visit to the allergist revealed that later reactions may be worse. We were prescribed an emergency allergy pen and told to carry it with us at all times. We also had to read the labels of everything she ate, making sure she didn’t even sprinkle cashews, pistachios, and probably other nuts. We also had our daughter tested for allergies, which confirmed our suspicions.
I’m embarrassed to say that I used to roll my eyes at parents who claimed their children had food allergy. They always seemed to claim that their children needed exceptions, which I now know is a medically necessary accommodation. There was always this kid who couldn’t eat a particular food, so the rest of the group had to be very careful. I felt these parents were over the top. That is, until I become one of them.
It’s easy to sigh for others when you have no idea of the seriousness of what their child is dealing with. A true food allergy can be life threatening. We learned this quickly during our daughter’s many appointments and each time we had to get two new emergency pens from the pharmacy.
Normal errands, like going to the bank, have become potentially dangerous. Bank tellers, as well as employees of many establishments (even doctors’ surgeries), often offer sweets to children. We trained our daughter early on in her allergy journey to say “No, thank you” to everyone who offered her food.
There were also times when our child was not with us, such as the two days a week when she attended preschool or children’s church on Sunday mornings. Every time we left our daughter with someone else, we had to remind them that she had a nut allergy. Under no circumstances could they offer our daughter a snack of the day.
Most people don’t know how to check a food label to make sure it’s safe. Others don’t understand the difference between peanuts and tree nuts, such as almonds and cashews. There is also the danger of cross-reactivity and cross-contamination. Many, many foods are produced in the same factories that process nuts – so even foods that aren’t actually contain nuts can be contaminated, which represents a danger for the allergic child.
Eating out or getting takeout was next to impossible. We had to research each establishment, including the ingredients they used. Usually we would end up cooking our daughter’s food at home and then get the food from the restaurant to take out for the rest of us. We weren’t willing to risk taking our child to the ER, especially not during the pandemic.
I regret all the negative thoughts I have had towards parents of children with food allergies. I was critical and cold. Parenting a child with a food allergy completely changes the lives of everyone in the household and creates a lot of (founded) fear when venturing outside. Events that are supposed to be fun, like a birthday party, are dangerous for a child with a severe food allergy.
The reality is that parents of children with food allergies cannot be overly cautious or protective. Exposure to the allergen can make a child seriously ill or even die. As parents, it is our duty to ensure the well-being of our child, including his physical safety. You have to be super vigilant.
We recently had our daughter retested, doing what is called a food challenge. She eats a tiny bit of nut butter for several hours while the doctor watches her closely for a reaction. turns out she’s one of those patients who’s outgrown their food allergy. No more emergency pens, checking food labels and searching for restaurants. We are grateful for this change, but in the meantime we have learned an important lesson.
It’s easy to judge allergic parents when you’re not part of their group, whatever that group might be. I made assumptions that were completely irrelevant, which I’m not proud of. Empathy and a willingness to learn go a long way and can make a big difference in making new friends, but also in keeping a child safe with food allergies.
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