Although we opted out of public and private school for our kid in order to steer clear of peanut butter sandwiches and peanut-laden cupcakes, we still have to be vigilant for the allergen in our every day lives.
At the grocery store, for example, we have to read every package–even for products that we routinely purchase. A different factory, a different production line–one with nuts on it–and we could be in trouble. We must decline most baked and handmade items–including cakes and cupcakes at birthday parties, which is a difficult thing for a youngster to do–lest we end up in the ER. We carry an Epi-Pen with us wherever we go, and we only leave our child alone with adults who have either administered a shot themselves before or who are willing to read and watch information on how to give an injection properly. (The pen packages come with instructions and a “practice” pen.)
Even with all these precautions there are no guarantees that we won’t have a horrible, deadly reaction to a “hidden” peanut.
You see, while folks “think” they understand peanut allergies because of news reports, very few people realize that:
• Peanuts are responsible for more deaths due to anaphylaxis than any other food allergen. (WebMD)
• Anaphylaxis may be one of the most painful ways in which to die. Basically, you suffocate to death. “In some cases, anaphylaxis may initially present with only mild symptoms, such as hives and itching, but it can quickly progress to a deadly reaction. Blood pressure can drop severely, leading to loss of consciousness. Swelling of the throat and airways can cause difficulty breathing, speaking, and swallowing.” (WebMD)
• There is no sure-fire way to protect one’s self or one’s peanut allergic child save to steer clear of any foods that may have even come in contact with a peanut or peanut residue during preparation (“cross-contamination“). For many young children, this kind of avoidance can lead to a painful sense of social isolation when they routinely have to say “no, thank you” to the kinds of goodies ordinary kids indulge in daily. Not surprisingly, there have been instances of outright bullying of peanut-allergic children.
Yet the really sticky part is dealing with well-meaning people who think that in abstaining from peanuts we’re just being a “little cautious” or “nervous Nellies” and so they routinely still introduce peanut-laden products into our environment. Or they lay a platter of cookies on a table and say airily, “Oh, just so you know… your kid probably shouldn’t eat these. They’re made with peanut butter.”
Hear me out: while a friendly warning is appreciated, as a parent of a peanut allergic child with a serious sweet tooth I appreciate even more the good friends and family members who graciously edit the nuts out of their lives for the few precious hours each week or every holiday that we’re together.
• Lots of rant-prone online folks like to cry “But the anaphylaxis is only possible if you ingest a nut!” (It actually takes only a nut fragment.) This sort of statement typically comes from people who feel school rules that eliminate nuts from the facility are “oppressive” or an intrusion on their “Constitutional rights.” While it’s true that touching a nut isn’t as bad as swallowing it, it’s also true that a reaction is a reaction. Why risk making someone physically uncomfortable?
Moreover, because a true anaphylactic reaction can begin with hives, there’s no way a parent or other adult–even a medical professional–can be certain when a reaction begins from where the problem originates. Since anaphylaxis is a matter of life or death, why risk confusion and open the door to any exposure in the first place? At the risk of sounding morbid, I don’t want a peanut allergic kid to die in front of your non-allergic kid because the adult managing the situation waited too long to decide whether or not an Epi-Pen or ER visit is necessary. (If you know someone who is prone to sneaking in peanut items into a peanut-free facility, suggest to them that they give that specific scenario a good think. It’s the single best example of why a peanut-free policy is beneficial to all parties.)
• Most frighteningly of all, peanut allergies can worsen over time. A minor reaction one time may be followed by a hospital visit or even death the next. In fact if you’ve had a visible reaction in the past you are more likely to have a worse reaction in the future. Yes, with the exception of the small amount of children who outgrow the allergy, the problem escalates with repeat exposure. (MayoClinic.com) Personally, I’m routinely amazed at how many peanut-allergic adults do not realize this fact and fail to carry an Epi-Pen to protect themselves.
School is starting around the country this month, and I’m sharing all of this information in hopes that at least one person will leave this page a little more sensitive to the serious problem of peanut allergies. Maybe they’d even share the link through Facebook or Twitter or repin this pin on Pinterest? Golly, I’d love it if just one parent picked up a jar of Sunbutter and used it in their kid’s lunch instead of regular peanut butter. And it’d be great if someone would think to bring a tray of fresh fruit to a birthday event or other special occasion so that the token peanut-allergic kid doesn’t feel the sting of social exclusion. Again.
• I love this post on food allergies because I so agree with her on many points. And it is funny, too.
• How to use an Epi-Pen: