As a mom, I have empathy for parents who have children with food allergies. And as a dietitian, I understand how tricky it can all be: confusing food labels, complicated ingredient lists, risks of cross contamination.
But when a loved one has a severe allergic reaction right in front of you, it really hits home.
We were on a family vacation this month, sharing our first dinner in a rented beach house. A teenage family member had recently been diagnosed with an allergy to poultry, but the take-and-bake pizzas we’d made had no evidence of poultry on the ingredient lists. Yet after dinner, he started to feel itchy. He took some Benadryl, but his lips began to swell. Then he said it was becoming hard to swallow.
Our house was a few miles from a sleepy shore town, and we had no idea where the nearest urgent care center or hospital might be. As we all scrambled to figure out our exact street address along the dark, coastline road, his parents called 911. Though they’d never had to use one before, they had packed two EpiPens. They gave him the first one and waited for the ambulance.
The paramedics asked someone to stand along the unlit road so they knew where we were. My husband and I volunteered. And as we waited for what seemed like way too long for help to arrive, I felt scared. And I knew that fear was something so many parents live with every single day as they send their kids off to school–that along with the usual worries about disappointments and heartbreaks, some parents also carry a fear that their child will have a life-threatening reaction to something as seemingly benign as a slice of pizza or a sandwich. Of course I already knew this. But in that moment, I felt it.
I’ve become increasingly upset when people ignore the allergy policy at school, which is one reason I crusaded against candy Valentines this year (read: “I Have No Love For Candy Valentines“). But after this food allergy experience, now it’s personal. I feel an even greater urgency to get the message out.
Even if you’re not personally touched by food allergies, your actions can impact families who are–when you pack your child’s lunch, when you bring in birthday treats to preschool, when you host a play date at your house.
Even if your child doesn’t have a food allergy, it’s still critical to understand the basics. That’s why I asked a friend to write this guest post What This Food Allergy Mom Wants You To Know and another friend to write about her experience facing ignorance in her community about food allergies (read A Food Allergy Mom’s Call For Empathy).
If your child does have a food allergy, I hope you’ll share what else the rest of us can do to help you and your family be safe.
And please help solve this food allergy mystery: If anyone has insight into what might have caused my family member’s reaction, what ingredient may have been in the pizza that could be related to his poultry allergy, please chime in. The doctors have been stumped so far. Thank you!