Did you know that some common school supplies can contain common allergens? Read Part 2 below of our 2-part series on Food Allergies in Children by our guest writer, Trista Swinson of Let’s Eat Safe. If you missed Part 1, be sure to check it out first and come back to finish Part 2.
The emotional impact of living with a food allergic child is one of the biggest hurdles we face regularly. One part I was not expecting as a result of our diagnosis was the emotional rollercoaster as a parent of children with severe allergies. There is a level of grief that happens. When you realize just how much in the American culture revolves around food, you realize how alert you have to be, and how much your child will be excluded from. No pizza parties or ice cream socials. Birthday parties are like sending your child out to play in the middle of a busy street. Holidays with family are also unnerving. When that “Great Aunt Myrtle” who thinks sneaking your child a bite of their dessert is cute, can end up with you spending your Christmas in the emergency room instead of opening gifts. Kids are in to everything and when something as simple as a family meal can kill your child the anxiety can be all consuming.
A lot of people still don’t understand the severity of food allergies. Some family members don’t understand the difference in an allergy and intolerance. In my experience, this is most common. We have even encountered many nurses and doctors who were not very knowledgeable about food allergies in a hospital setting. We have even experienced nurses attempting to give my child a food labeled as an allergen on their chart. We literally always have to stay on guard.
In the US, it is required to list the “Top 8” food allergens on all packaged foods. The “Top 8” are milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, treenuts, fish and shellfish. While on the surface it may seem easy to avoid these things, reading labels becomes a way of life. Chicken broth can contain nuts or milk. Taco seasoning can contain milk in one brand, and not in another. Deli meats can contain casein which is derived from milk protein. The labeling laws are not required on meats. When you have additional allergies outside of the Top 8, many ingredients can just be listed as “spices” or “natural flavors.”
But it isn’t just food. Medications and school supplies can also be issues. Tempura paint, which is very standard in Preschool classrooms or Sunday School rooms, contains egg. Playdough is made from wheat. Dissolvable Zofran does not contain milk, but the film coated tablet does.
How has this impacted our family socially?
We have had to leave the park due to children eating on the playground. My son has had to stop attending Sunday School due to “mystery” hives upon pickup. VBS is not an option for our family due to crafts and snacks. We have not been able to go to Small Group because of reactions from a dog licking my child because the dog’s treats contained peanut butter. It can be very isolating. If we want to have a social life, we have to invite people over and supply all food.
One of my biggest passions has been becoming an advocate in the food allergy community. I have learned the more vocal we are about raising awareness the more people are genuinely becoming aware and caring. This year, we even had a parent consult with me on how they could make their daughter’s birthday party where we felt safe to attend.
I have been very fortunate that many of our close friends understand the severity of our situation and even make their homes a “safe zone” when we visit. Gestures like this are above and beyond.
What can you do?
Show compassion. Ask questions. Educate yourself. Talk to your kids.
Food allergies are still the brunt of a lot of jokes or people feeling inconvenienced. For us it isn’t about being a burden, but fighting for our child’s life every second of every day. Many children are even subject to bullying in school because of their allergy. In June 2017, a 13 year old boy in London died after a food allergy bullying incident where a fellow student flung cheese at him. In under 10 minutes after the incident, he was unconscious and died 10 days later. Other children have had their food contaminated with their allergen while not looking leading to life threatening reactions or experienced taunting with the food waved or thrown at them. 1 in 3 children with food allergies have experienced bullying due to their condition.
Together, we can make a difference. Compassion still goes a long way. Finally, allergy life isn’t all about doing without. One of my other passions has become creating allergy friendly recipes that everyone enjoys! Enjoy this recipe free from the Top 8 allergens and be sure to share how the recipe turns out!