We found out last summer that our son, Ian, 2, has a serious food allergy. He sneaked a bite of a peanut butter sandwich on our kitchen table—and ended up in the hospital. I'd never given him peanuts before, since our pediatrician had told us to wait until he's 3.
Ian's reaction was scary because the symptoms didn't come on all at once. I'm so thankful that our pediatrician sent us to the emergency room right away. Ian had a "biphasic" reaction: mild hives and cough followed, hours later, by acute anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that interfered with his breathing. Then he received epinephrine and steroids. An hour later, he was cheerfully marching up and down the hallway. We went home with an EpiPen Jr in case he ever needed epinephrine quickly. Later, a pediatric allergist told us that Ian has a severe allergy to peanuts and a mild one to sesame seeds.
For weeks I felt afraid whenever Ian ate, and I watched him anxiously for warning signs of a reaction. I started a food diary, which helped—I remembered that there are many foods he can eat safely. I became vigilant about food labels, especially small print like "may contain traces of nuts," since as little as one-eighth of a peanut can trigger a reaction in some kids.
Some days I worry too much. But my husband, Jared, and I are committed to keeping things as normal as possible—not just for Ian but for his sister, Chloe, 6. We want eating to remain enjoyable for everyone; I bake often, so we have fun food around the house. We take homemade cupcakes to birthday parties. Our family and friends—and other moms with allergic kids—are really supportive.
One thing I'd share: Get help quickly if you think your child is having an allergic reaction—even if you're not sure. I thought I was being paranoid all the way to the hospital.
Our job is to keep Ian safe and teach him what he needs to do as he gets older. We want him to know what he can do rather than have him feel like he's missing out, and he's already learning to ask whether a food is "okay" before he eats it. This has been an adjustment for all of us, but it gets a little easier as time goes by.
An Allergy Breakthrough?
An experimental medicine may someday be able to help kids like Ian. TNX-901, injected once a month, protects severely allergic people from reacting to trace amounts of peanuts, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. That would make it easier for them to eat many more foods without fear of accidental exposure.
It will be years before the drug reaches the market, however, so avoiding nuts is still key.
Food labels make that a challenge; while some big food companies list common allergens, there's no standardized approach. Congress is currently considering the Food Allergen Consumer Protection Act, which would require manufacturers to provide easy-to-read ingredient labels that clearly identify allergens.