2008-09-07

More from the Peanut Gallery (or, Peanut Allergies Suck)

When my daughter was eighteen months old, I left her with a friend while I ran a couple of errands (had to pick up my eyeglasses, and zip to the local running shop to buy some paraphernalia for my upcoming half marathon). It was the first time I was leaving her with someone other than a family member, and I was ridiculously nervous.

My friend, whose daughter was (and still is) bestest friends with mine assured me that she'd hover over my girl as much as she does hers. I thought to myself, It's only thirty minutes, she'll be fine.

Twenty-five minutes later, as I hopped into my minivan, heaving a sigh of relief because I was headed towards my girl and could scoop her into my arms in mere minutes, my cell phone rang.

It was my friend, "Does your daughter have a peanut allergy?" she asked.

"I don't think so; we've never let her have peanuts. Why?" I answered.

"Just wondering. I have some granola bars here that have peanuts in them. Wanted to know if I could let her have one."

"No, please don't. I am keeping her away from peanuts until she is three. I have food allergies; I am super paranoid!"

At this point I was nearing her house, so we hung up.

When I got inside, the rest of the story was made clear to me.

My friend, who loves my daughter dearly, asked me, "Does her lip look swollen?"

Sure enough, my daughter's lower lip was swollen, just on the right side. My friend had given the girls a granola bar to share; as soon as my daughter put a bite to her mouth, her lip swelled up.

Thankfully my friend was savvy enough to know what was going on. She confiscated the bars, and watched my daughter with a hawk's eye. She's CPR trained, was at one time a First Responder, so she knew what she was doing, and what was going on. Her call to me was as much about finding out my location and how soon I'd be arriving as anything.

We watched my girl for hours; I called the pediatrician and followed their instructions. Later that week a trip to the allergist confirmed that not only did my daughter have a peanut allergy, but a severe one.

How could that have happened? An allergic reaction never happens on the first exposure to a substance. It takes at least one prior exposure for the body to build an immune response...the first time is always a gimmee. I had never given my daughter peanut butter, or any peanut product in the past.

Or had I?

Peanut oil is widely used in a variety of products, and machinery that processes peanuts also processes other products that don't have peanut ingredients. Clearly my sweet girl had been exposed to peanuts at least once prior.

Labelling has come a long way. Now companies are required to inform consumers if their product has peanuts in them; many go beyond that requirement and add if the product shares equipment with peanut products, or if the facility processes peanuts. I am eternally grateful for that; reading labels has become FIRST nature to me.

I understand that peanut butter is a staple in most US households. It's a great source of protein, most kids love it, it's convenient and inexpensive. I'd urge you, however, to hold off on serving it to your young children until they reach an age where you are certain they won't develop a sensitivity to it.

What is that age? It's unclear...I'd say six is a fairly safe bet. Not for sure, but probably fine.

The problem with a peanut allergy is, one time the child might have symptoms that are so mild they go unnoticed. The same for the next ten times. Or forever.

Or, they might get a swollen lip. The same for the next ten times. Or forever.

But...they might get a swollen lip, and then the next time go into anaphylactic shock, be unable to breath and suffer other serious system failures.

And die.

There is just no telling.

Peanut allergies are notorious for being totally unpredictable. They can come out of seemingly nowhere, and there is no way to know what will happen with the next exposure. Might be fine. Might not.

Next year my daughter is supposed to start Kindergarten. I don't know what I will do...frankly, with a life threatening allergy, I can't say I'm all too keen on the idea of assuming that she'll be fine.

The last time I did that, we discovered her allergy. She was in good, loving, capable hands.

What if the next time, she's not?

19 comments:

  1. You will definitely need to make a big fat hairy deal about the food allergy when DD starts school. We have been very clear about H's allergies each time he has started a new school and at each school (and it just happened again, on the first day), they've given him food with soy products (soy lecithin) in them. We are lucky because he does not have severe allergies. Of course, once I go in and freak out on them, it never happens again. ;o) So, you need to freak out before it happens, I guess...

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  2. Be very clear with the teacher, the principal and the office staff and (very important) the district/school nurse on the first day of school. I don't know about your state, but in California schools that are aware of serious health issues are required to notify teachers and anyone who can come in contact with the child.

    It is even possible to get a legal document that requires the school to act in certain ways. It is a federal function called a 504 Plan. It is part of the ADA legislation. It puts in place how the school deals with your child in regard to her medical/health needs.

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  3. That is horrible! I am glad that it was only a “mild” reaction. I know that at my son's pre-school we had a child with severe peanut allergies and the school made it well known that no peanut butter or peanut products were allowed in the school. I know that more and more schools are going to this rule just to be safe. There are other products; like almond butter, that use nuts instead of peanuts to make products that are peanut butter like and the kids eat just the same. I think the labeling of products law went into effect in Jan 2006 where products have to be labeled with the word Peanut and “processed in plants where peanuts are processed” are required.

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  4. Wow Christine, thank you so much or sharing this. How frightening.

    I know at my daughter's preschool they have signs up in each classroom, the lunchroom and the office with each child's name and their allergy. They send home class lists if there is a child in the class with an allergy. I appreciate this, but I'm sure I'd want even more if my child had an allergy.
    Good luck honey.

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  5. The school where my kids attend, and where I am a teacher's aide has signs outside classroom doors where there is a child with allergies. There is also a "peanut free" table in the cafeteria and all the teachers know what to do if someone does go into shock. Having well-trained faculty and staff is key.

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  6. My best friend lives in New York and really wants me to visit. And I REALLY want to go! But my 15 month old is severely allergic to corn and egg - and I just CANNOT trust someone else to feed her for three whole days. Not even her dad, not even if I pre-make every meal for her. I don't know WHAT I'm going to do when it comes time to send her off into the "world" and I can't hover over her.

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  7. Anonymous12:50 PM

    We're super-lucky - no allergies. But I refuse to send pb or products with nuts to school in my kids' lunches. Peanut-free tables don't cut it. Yes, allergic kids need to learn how to function in the world, but they also need to be safe at school, and trace transfer is way too risky.

    I'm constantly amazed by (and pissed at) the people who say "but my kids loves/only eats/whatever pb" - really? So much so that you're willing to risk another kid's life?

    (posting as anon b/c the other options confuse me, but it's Kara)

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  8. My sister-in-law is a kindergarten teacher (and has also taught pre-school). She is the most diligent person I know about food allergies, because she has been trained to be that way. All the staff at every school she's ever worked at are really careful about food, serving food, cleanliness, etc. because of the food allergy problem. I'm guessing that a formal school setting is going to be one of the safer places for her to be because they are used to dealing with children's food allergies.

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  9. My son had a similar experience with soy. Last Thanksgiving (when he was 10 months old) I gave him a small bite size piece of soy cheese.(he had eczema and the doctor was afraid that he was allergic to dairy....)A few seconds later he had hives all over his face and neck and was swelling up. Thankfully they had gone down by the time we reached the pediatricians office. Right after his first birthday, he was diagnosed with allergies to Soy,Peanuts,Eggs,Wheat and Dairy(soy being the least reactive) and SPEWD Free was born. I thought that you might be interested in the recipes as they are free of soy,peanuts,eggs,wheat and dairy.
    Thanks
    Heather

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  10. We held off on the pb and honey until 3. It's been nothing but pb and pancakes ever since. Oh, and broccoli. He's a strange child.

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  11. It's scary stuff. We held off on exposing my daughter to peanuts until she was four because of a family history of allergies. When she did try peanut butter, she wasn't a fan & it became a big non-issue. Just last year, at age 10, she decided to give it another try. After a few bites, she complained that her mouth itched. A trip to the allergist confirmed a peanut allergy, but luckily in the mild to moderate range.

    We leave an Epi-Pen with the school nurse, and I pack her lunch every day. Luckily, at her age, she is reliable about checking labels and not taking risks eating unknown foods. At five, it would have been more difficult.

    I definitely recommend making her teachers aware of the allergy. Our school cafeteria coordinator to me that if Hannah's allergy had been severe, they would have banned all peanut products from the school. What most well-meaning people don't always realize, though, is that even things without peanuts as an ingredient can be a risk if they were processed in a plant that processes peanuts.

    Good luck!

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  12. These allergies are so scary!

    My daughter's best friend has a peanut allergy, and she is so well trained to ask if there are peanuts in everything she eats!

    She used to visit with us when she was really little and we were always sooo careful! God forbid anything should happen to her.

    Do you remember last Halloween when I posted the letters going around my sister's neighborhood regarding peanuts and Halloween candy? It got pretty heated!

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  13. Ugh, Bri's school has a no peanut product rule for K, 1 and 2nd, after that, its up to the kids to police themselves. They cannot share food or bring in food for treats.

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  14. It's scary all the stuff kid are allergic to these days. Is it our food? Is the environment? Something is messing with our kids' immune systems. They're telling parents not to feed your kids any of the known allergen foods until they're at least 3 (including nuts, wheat, egg white, soy, bananas now, etc.,etc., --- it's getting to be quite a long list)

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  15. Holy Moly! This post was scarey!! My four year old gets peanut butter all the time!!! I just thought allergies only appeared when they were babies and once they were older, you were pretty safe... NOW I'M WORRIED! Thanks for the info... this information needs to be more widespread.

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  16. Two words: home school! ;-D

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  17. I'm sure a nut allergy is a nightmare for a mother. A very good friend of mine has a daughter with a nut (and strawberry) allergy and every time I'm with her, I get stressed out just thinking about the allergies. I can only imagine how much worse it would be, were she my own child. Sorry you have to deal with this!

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  18. Anonymous11:38 AM

    My 2 yr old also has a peanut allergy. We found out after a bite of a peanut butter cookie caused hives. We now carry an Epi-pen & I too am terrfied to send him to school. We will educate of course on the No Peanuts are allowed, but what about the products that are processed around nuts, how will he know this & how do the schools prevent children from bringing these items in. Before discovering my son's allergies, We NEVER checked or knew about these foods. So scary!

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Brilliant observations: