Guest author Christy Matte is the mother of two young kids, and a freelance writer focusing on topics related to family, including tech, travel, and toys. She blogs at Quirky Fusion and, occasionally, More than Mommy.
Nothing has been easy with my son who is now five-going-on-six. We dealt with an at-risk pregnancy, jaundice, inability to breastfeed, blocked tear ducts, eczema, sensory issues, gross motor delays and a collection of strange infections and ailments, all before he turned a year old. It was hardly a surprise when, at about 6 months old, his pediatrician suggested that some of the skin problems he was having were probably due to a dairy allergy. She was low-key about it, hinting that he’d probably outgrow the allergy and that we should switch to a soy-based formula.
When he turned one, we decided to have him tested more widely for allergies. The result? Allergies to eggs, soy and peanuts. Yes, they had taken my son off the dairy formula which he was mildly allergic to and put him on soy, which we was even more allergic to. When I asked if we should be carrying an Epi-Pen for his peanut allergy, the pediatrician told us, “just don’t feed him peanut butter.” It was at that moment that I insisted on a consultation with pediatric allergist.
It might seem, if you haven’t experienced it, that diagnosing food allergies would be fairly cut and dry. There’s a blood test, and there’s a skin test. The blood test looks for antibodies for a particular allergen in the blood. The skin test involved pricking the subject with a group of tiny needles, all containing possible allergens. If a welt develops, it’s considered a positive result. Fun, huh? But the best part is that the tests are only a guideline. You may, in fact, have positive results, while not actually suffering any ill effects from a substance. And, you can have negative results while suffering very severe effects. The only true test of a food allergy is to expose the patient to the substance and see if they have a reaction.
Around the same time we received our diagnosis, a friend of mine was dealing with a possible food allergy with her son as well. At a year old, he was rejecting dairy products, and would break out in a rash around his mouth after ingesting anything with dairy. Her pediatrician told her to give him whole milk for a week and see if he brokes out in hives. Combined with my own sketchy experience, this gave way to another challenge. Pediatricians are not all properly educated in how to react to a possible food allergy. In fact, some seem dangerously ill-informed. I mean, why in the world would you continue to give milk to a child who is not only rejecting it, but breaking out in a rash on contact? For those keeping track, the boy finally ended up with the positive diagnosis, but he has since outgrown the allergy.
Once we knew what we were dealing with (huge thanks to the allergist on the case), panic started to set in. We began carrying a Twin-ject, which is an epinephrine (the hormone also known as adrenaline) device with two doses of medicine in one pen. We started reading labels. And I started realizing that soy is in nearly every packaged food you can imagine. I began making mental lists of things my son would never be able to do… go for an ice cream cone, enjoy a baseball game, eat Thai food. More importantly, I began to worry about every simple outing. I was afraid to even send him to his grandparents’ houses for fear that they would make a fatal mistake.
Over time, our family has become much better about reading labels and behaving with caution. Some are simply better at it than others, and mistakes have certainly been made, but we are more confident leaving him for overnights and even occasional meals out. We have been able to take him out for ice cream, and he’s even attended a couple of peanut-free designated baseball games. He has outgrown his soy allergy and is allowed to have eggs in baked goods. This has freed us somewhat from the need to carry safe snacks everywhere we go. It’s simply easier to avoid nuts.
Five years in, it has gotten easier in some ways, harder in others. Reading labels has become more of a habit, as is taking along his Twin-ject. Then again, we sometimes slip into a forgetful comfort-zone and neglect to do one or the other. Attending parties still causes me a certain amount of anxiety. I hate calling ahead to ask about food. I feel high-maintenance asking the host to retain labels so we can make sure things are safe. And it’s a pain to constantly bake cupcakes to send along to the myriad of birthday parties each year. I worry about the people who don’t understand and who rally against accommodations for those with food allergies. Most of all, I’m concerned for my son, who has to carry this with him through life. I know he can handle it, but as a mom, I wish he didn’t have to.