Challenges

It was the day before Penny’s 1st Dairy Challenge. A dairy challenge, in Penny’s case, meant that I would bring a homemade baked good that contained dairy to the Dr.’s office and she would eat this baked good under proper medical supervision- this to ensure that if a severe reaction occurred, the medical staff will have control of the situation. Also, per the allergist’s instruction, Penny had to stop any antihistamines and/or asthma medication 5 days prior to the test.

I got ready: went to the supermarket, got some gluten-free flour, enjoy life chocolate chips, eggs, coconut oil, and the most important ingredients for the challenge: cow’s milk. After everyone went to bed, I stayed up looking for dairy-full cupcake recipes and baked. I’m not going to lie-I was nervous, but positive.

We had decided that the four of us were going to be at the Dr.’s office on this BIG day. Not only to celebrate if Penny passed the challenge but also to give each other support. After all, isn’t that what family is all about?

On the day of the challenge we were there at 7:45 am. Penny was called in at 8:00 am. After having been examined for her asthma and everything else (height, weight, changes in health, etc), the Dr. ordered her to start eating the cupcake. First, they gave Penny ¼  of a teaspoon of the cupcake, slowly increasing the quantity every 15-20 minutes until she had eaten about ¼ of that cupcake. There was a high level of supervision throughout the whole challenge. The nurse would come in the room every 3-5 minutes to check on her, and to ensure that everything was alright. This gave me a sense of security- that if anything happened she was going to be ok. An hour and a half later the challenge was completed, and Penelope had successfully passed. In the weeks to follow, I had to slowly increase the portions (of a cupcake) that Penny ate by ½ every week until she tolerated 1 whole cupcake. This was a breeze; she loved the taste of the cupcake and never had a reaction. I came to understand, at this point, that the treatment that the allergist chose for Penny is called Oral Immunotherapy (OIT). Oral immunotherapy is a treatment that induces the immune system to tolerate a food that a person is currently reacting to. It involves introducing the food that causes the reaction to the person’s system in gradually increasing amounts, with the goal of allowing the person to eventually consume the food without experiencing a reaction.

From now on, Penny had to eat a dairy-full baked good daily. I got creative and baked bread, cakes, brownies, cookies, etc. Eating these baked goods for a month and a half was preparing Penny for the next step: a Yogurt Challenge. Seeing Penny eat things with dairy made me so happy. For 3 years her diet had been restricted, and thinking that she was going to be able to add more things to her diet and potentially eat anything with dairy altogether is pretty exciting.

Her yogurt challenge was scheduled two days after Christmas. A few days before, Penny, Paulo & I went to the grocery store in search of a good vanilla yogurt. Fast-forward 2 days and it was Challenge Day.

Just like the 1st time, we were there early in the morning. This time, I brought her breakfast to eat after the challenge was over. Around 8:30 am, the yogurt challenge began. She had ½ a teaspoon of yogurt. No reactions. Then, about 10-15 minutes later, she had 1 teaspoon of yogurt. Still, no reactions; however, Penny started complaining saying that her stomach hurt because she was hungry. Twenty minutes later, she had a tablespoon of yogurt. This time, a few hives appeared on her face, but after washing her hands and face, the hives went away. Again, according to Penny, the only thing bothering her was that she was hungry. The allergist walked in about 20 minutes after she had the tablespoon of yogurt and since she was cruising through the whole thing, he said that Penny could eat as much as she wanted. She was so happy and she kept saying: “Mommy, this yogurt is so YUMMY!”

Another 20 minutes had gone by. The allergist came back into the office, checked on her and was ready to discharge her with a successful challenge. Then all of a sudden, Penelope developed a cough. The allergist and I kept talking about the next steps to take, and I told him that she wasn’t coughing before, so he said that he was going to keep her in the office for 10 more minutes to see what was going on. I was fine with it: “better safe than sorry”. He also said that Penny could have the breakfast I had brought since she kept complaining about being hungry. She had one bite of her pancake, and then said she didn’t want any more. This was strange. As time passed by, her cough was more frequent, and her energy levels were dropping. She started telling me that she wanted to go home and that she wanted daddy. My husband and son wanted to be there for the challenge, but were both sick with a cold, and decided to wait for us outside.

The nurse came in and stayed with us, checking on Penelope constantly. I asked her to, please, check her lungs for wheezing. She said Penny wasn’t wheezing. At this point, Penny was curled up in a little ball in my lap. Then, as the nurse was going to step out of the room for a second, Penny coughed, but this time at the end of her cough, you could hear the wheezing. The nurse looked at me and asked me if I heard a wheeze. I certainly did. From that moment on, everything felt like it was going downhill: she was in anaphylactic shock. Her wheezing was very loud, and she was struggling to breathe. The nurse called other nurses for help and got the allergist to walk into the office. Penelope was connected to a blood oxygen saturation monitor. My head felt like it was spinning; I kept looking at the monitor: her heart rate kept going up and her oxygen levels kept dropping. I was desperate and felt helpless at the same time.

The allergist looked at Penny and ordered epinephrine be given to her. One of the nurses raced off to another room and came back with a syringe containing the epinephrine. Even though it had only been minutes since she started having the reaction, it felt like hours. Not even a minute after the epinephrine was given to Penny, everything started to change. Her breathing slowly normalized, wheezing subsided and Penny started looking better. Once she started feeling better, she also started having nausea, and eventually threw up the yogurt. At least she didn’t have what was making her sick in her stomach anymore. To be exact, 6 minutes after epinephrine was given her oxygen levels were back to 100%. The doctor ordered the nurse to give her oral steroids to avoid a biphasic reaction. A biphasic reaction occurs anytime from 1 hour to 72 hours after the initial reaction and can happen without any allergen exposure. He also ordered antihistamines because her throat was itching.

By the time my husband was able to make it to the room where we were, Penelope was stable. Everything happened so fast. We left the allergist’s office 4 hours after with instructions to keep giving Penny dairy in baked goods. I’m not going to lie, I was afraid that she was going to have a reaction to baked goods after the severe reaction, but she was fine.  The next step: a Cheese Challenge next month. How do I feel? Scared, but this is the only way we are going to know if her dairy allergy will ever be cured.

This has been one of the most difficult experiences I have ever lived. It left me heartbroken, and it has been difficult even to talk about. I know Penny’s all right and that everything is O.K., but I am still healing. I am grateful to know that epinephrine can save her life if used as the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis, and most importantly, I am hopeful that Penny will be able to surpass this.

 

 

Baby Steps…

If you are part of a F.A. family, you know how hard it is Eating out with Food Allergies. By default, the first thing I do is to make a call directly to the Restaurant. So, when last Thursday I was craving pizza I made a few calls to different pizzerias. As most of you know, we avoid peanuts, tree nuts, dairy & gluten. As luck would have it, there was a pizzeria that had a dairy-free, gluten-free pizza and when I called they assured me that they could make it without cross-contamination. They explained that they used Daiya Cheese & their Gluten Free crust was also dairy-free.

I am not going to lie, even when the restaurant assured me that they can work around my children’s allergies, I still feel doubt and anxiety. It’s so easy to have cross-contamination, and talking by experience, not everybody knows how to handle food allergies.

Anyway, I braved up and off we went. Once we arrived, we wiped down the table and seats to make sure there wasn’t any allergen residue that could’ve started a reaction. Then, I talked to our waitress and explained the severity of Penny’s allergies. She said that she would make sure that the cooks would clean the area and change gloves before preparing my kiddos meal, avoiding cross-contamination.


The pizza was delicious & my kids were able to enjoy pizza in a different environment, reaction free.What a fantastic experience! No doubt we will be returning soon to Farelli’s Wood Fire Pizza.

Second Opinion: From one Allergy to Another

Not to toot my own horn, but when it comes to food allergies my maternal instinct has helped save Penny from many anaphylactic reactions. Case in point when she was around one my husband insisted that I give Penny Peanut Butter since it’s a good source of protein, plus we loved eating it. However, something in my head kept telling me not to. I kept telling him, “Honey, what if she’s allergic to it?” and he always replied, “Nobody in our family is allergic to peanuts, why would she be the exception?” Well, let’s say I was pretty head-strong with this and never gave in.  Penny turned one and we discovered her dairy allergy. It was then that I insisted to the Doctor to do an Allergy blood test panel to see if she had any other allergies. Guess what? I was right!

Since then we go to yearly allergy visits that consist of blood work, visiting the allergist and, maybe, depending on the result a skin test. Penny’s allergies have been consistently getting higher each year, so this year her allergist decided only to test her peanut allergy. But something inside me was restless, I was not convinced. I wanted Penny to be tested for other allergens because lately she’s had random reactions and we haven’t been able to figure out what is actually causing them.  Long story short, we got a referral from her pediatrician for a second opinion.

Unfortunately, for her first appointment with her new allergist I couldn’t miss work, luckily enough, my husband was on vacation so he took her in. He told me that, since her medical records didn’t make it to the new doctor, the Dr. was, at first, a bit incredulous. To be honest I can’t blame him. I sent my husband to that appointment with 2 pages worth of information on what had been happening for the past year. Well, the allergist did some blood work right then and there and discovered that her allergies were severe. After that, he did a skin test to see why she is having these random allergic reactions and sent her to the lab to get more blood work done.

On the skin test, he tested for peanut, dairy, wheat/gluten, eggs, dust mites, pollen, mold, and pet dander. There were good news and bad news… The bad, her peanut allergy is still severe, and she turned out to be almost equally allergic to dog dander. I have been reading about service dogs that are able to detect allergens in most any forms: raw, cooked, oil, butter, dust, etc.  We have been planning, for the past year to adopt a dog and train it to detect Penny’s allergens. The thought of it gave me peace of mind, but I guess, that is not happening anytime soon. At least we found out before adopting the dog. The good, her dairy allergy has decreased significantly, to the point that the doctor is comfortable enough to do a dairy challenge.

When my husband told me about the dairy challenge I got mixed feelings. I mean, I am super excited that my little one might be outgrowing one of her allergies, but on the other hand, I get anxious when I think about the possibility of her failing that challenge. What if she goes into anaphylaxis? We’ve been through anaphylaxis once, but it was caused by skin contact. I have never seen her have an anaphylactic reaction by ingestion. Then, I tell myself, what if she actually passes the challenge? This means that she will be able to expand her diet. Mentioning the words birthday parties, potlucks, social gatherings, and Halloween would not have to send me into full blown panic and we will be able to go out and eat with a bit more peace of mind. The peanut allergy is still scary but, in my opinion, easier to avoid or manage.

Allergies take you on a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes you are sad because your child can’t eat or do certain things, other times you panic (especially when you or your child is having a reaction), you can also get happy that you child can’t eat certain things (we eat healthier; we rarely eat processed foods), but overall I am grateful to be able to know what Penny is allergic to and that there is a medication that can save my child’s life in an event of a severe reaction. Life is good!

Vanilla Glazed Baked Doughnuts

Doughnuts

Ingredients:

Doughnuts:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup & ½ tbsp. non-dairy milk. I used soy milk
  • 2 tbsp. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Stick (8oz), melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Glaze:

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. non-dairy milk. I used soy milk

 

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  • Grease the doughnut pan.
  • In a bowl, mix together egg, non-dairy milk, butter, and vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is well blended.
  • Spoon the mixture into the doughnut pan.
  • Place the pan in the oven and bake for 10 mins.
  • Remove from oven and allow the doughnuts to cool. 

To make the glaze:

  • In a bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt.
  • Add 1 tbsp. of non-dairy milk to the mixture.
  • When the doughnuts are completely cool, dip them into the vanilla glaze.

 

Enjoy! 🙂

Here we go again… Yearly Food Allergy Testing

Every year, Penny (my severe food-allergic child), has to visit her allergist to discuss her allergies and have a blood test. Then, we wait for the results that determine if her allergies are getting better (in the path of outgrowing them) or if they are getting worse.  When we get close to this date, I try not to get my hopes up, because as it has happened in the past, I get hopeful and then I find out that her allergies got more severe.

This year, I walked into the allergist’s office with little to no hope. We talked about Penny’s most recent reaction when we traveled this summer, discussed what can be done in the future before traveling and established a new emergency plan. Then, the doctor started talking about this year’s blood test and how he thought that Penny’s dairy allergy, which was not too high last year, could have gotten better and depending on the test result we might be able to do an oral food challenge. If the doctor is so hopeful, why shouldn’t I be? I’m not going to lie: I walked out of his office with this feeling that her dairy allergy was outgrown. I was so happy! I kept thinking that I was going to be able to expand her diet and it was going to be easier now.

Well, we went to the lab, got her blood drawn and the waiting game began. A week later I got a call from her allergist… We talked about another reaction that Penny had experienced without any direct exposure to an allergen and then he told me that he had called me to talk about the test results. My expectations were high… and then I heard the following words: “Unfortunately, Penny’s results show that her allergies didn’t get any better”. Her dairy allergy went higher and the peanut allergy is very high now. BUMMER!

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, I was so disheartened… I immediately called my husband to give him the news. He was sad as well. We had, again, gotten our hopes up only to receive bad news. The truth is that even though you know that Food Allergies can go either way, you always want the best for your children. I have to accept our reality: Penny might never outgrow her Food Allergies. It is my job to teach her how to live in a world that’s not allergy-free and where not everybody is allergy-friendly. However, it is something that, with the right education and advocacy, can be achieved.

This is going to be a big year for Penny: she might go to preschool for the first time. What can I say? It scares me like nothing has ever scared me before. But, it is what it is. Of course, I will meet up with the school staff to talk about her allergies and establish an emergency care plan, and hopefully she will be comfortable in an environment where her allergies will be respected and she will be accommodated. After all, food allergies are a part of her life and she has to learn to live with them.

Empathy

One thing that I truly appreciate is empathy. So far, I’ve been blessed with amazing family members, friends, and neighbors who are great at being understanding and considerate when it comes to my children’s allergies. Whenever they visit, they try to avoid allergens at least 4 hours before coming over and never bring any allergens to my home. Also, they wash their hands and mouths when they arrive. If we are the ones visiting, they wipe surfaces to make sure there is no allergen protein residue and put away any food product containing dairy, peanuts & tree nuts. If they happen to have had contact with any of the allergens while we are present, they make sure to wash their hand thoroughly to make sure there’s no allergic reaction. Finally, if we have been invited to their home and they feel like offering us anything to eat, they are kind enough to call me beforehand and ask if we can eat whatever it is that they are offering.

On the other hand, I am grateful when someone that’s not willing to give up those allergens when we are around tells me about it. This way, I make sure we’re extra careful when meeting up with him/her.  I am never trying to be an inconvenience; I am only trying to avoid allergic reactions. But the mere fact that you are honest enough and let me know helps to keep my children safe.

Now, when one of my friends or family members goes out of their way to bring me an allergy-friendly product, it makes me happy. This is exactly what happened when we were on our trip in Puerto Rico. My mom’s friend, Angie, knew about Penny’s allergy and while she was shopping in Marshalls stumbled upon Dr. Lucy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. These cookies are peanut, tree nut, milk, egg and gluten free. Its box says that they test for milk, gluten, peanut, almond, hazelnut and walnut traces in their ingredients and never allow those items in their bakery or warehouse, which gave me a sense of security when offering these treats to my children.  Oh! They’re also Non-GMO. ☺ A physician, who’s also the mother of a child with food allergies created this brand. She states in the cookie box that she built her own bakery to make these treats because she  “know[s] how difficult it can be to find high-quality snacks that taste great”. I agree, at least the chocolate chip cookies, have a rich and delightful taste. What can I say? The cookies were gone that same day. I can’t wait to find more of these delicious treats.

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To all of you that have been kind enough to accommodate my children’s needs, you know who you are, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much easier and less stressful this makes my day.  For me, it is not about convenience, but about not risking my children’s health and lives.

Summer Camp and a Complicated Birthday Celebration

Last month, I traveled with both my kids to Puerto Rico. One of the reasons for our trip was for the kids to be able to go to an awesome summer camp. For Paulo, it meant an all day experience, whereas for Penny it was half day. I’m not going to lie, leaving my food allergic kiddos in school/summer camp is a bit nerve-wracking, especially since Paulo is newly diagnosed and Penny is still learning to identify which food products contain her allergens.

To my surprise, Paulo was really good at identifying what he could or couldn’t eat and understood that he was not able to share snacks or lunch with anybody else. Penny was a different story. In her case, teachers had to be vigilant and extremely careful at snack time. However, they were really good at keeping Penny safe. They told me that it was a learning experience for them. They found it easy to avoid and keep Penny away from peanuts and tree nuts but were surprised with all the food products that contain dairy. They made sure that everybody washed their hands before and after snack and would carefully clean the tables, chairs and materials to avoid an allergic reaction. Overall, both kids had an amazing time and I am happy to say that both children had an allergy-free summer camp experience.

However, like everything in life, nothing is perfect. On the last day of summer camp, we celebrated Paulo, Penny and another child’s birthday. At first, when the director told me about the celebration, I was hesitant for it involved food and as a food allergy mom, that makes me a bit anxious. But at the end, I accepted because the director assured me that she would talk to the mom of the other child celebrating the birthday and would make sure that the celebration would be allergy-friendly. It was my responsibility to bake allergy friendly cupcakes and the other mom would only bring fruits and veggies.

Last day of camp came and everything was looking great. Until, all of a sudden, the other mom comes with a cake on her hands. My heart started pounding with fear and disappointment, and I’m guessing that I did not control my emotions well because as soon as she looked at me, she assured me that the cake was brought only so she could take a picture. I was confused. The only reason I had accepted to have the birthday celebration was because it was going to be an allergy-free gathering and now, this mom knowingly brought an allergen-full cake… Anyway, I trusted that she was going to keep her word and continued with our day. The party was awesome: kids were enjoying the bouncy house, the water slides, and the allergy-friendly snacks.

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It was time to sing Happy Birthday, so we all gathered around the table where I had beautifully placed the 70 homemade allergy-friendly mini-cupcakes and we all sang the birthday song. We shared the cupcakes with everyone and were having an awesome time when all of a sudden the “picture cake” was out. They took the pictures, I looked away, and when I looked back there was a mess made out of the cake’s frosting. I started getting anxious, trying to keep Penelope away from the cake area when I noticed that the mom was cutting the cake and giving away some pieces to some children. This is when I went from anxious to upset. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This mom, who had been told about both my children’s allergies and their severity, and who had agreed on not bringing any allergens, not only brought them, but knowingly was also putting my child’s health and life at risk. I was too upset to talk to her without making a scene, so instead I took our stuff and my severe allergic child and left.

I know and understand that the world is not allergy-free and that not everybody understands the consequences that a little bit of an allergen can cause (in our case, anaphylaxis). In this case, what disappointed me was that this other mom knew beforehand about the allergies and still went on and brought allergens. It saddens me that people can’t see that where their child’s inconvenience starts is exactly where my children’s life is put at risk.

Both my children had an amazing summer; it was their mom who got scared and angry at other people’s lack of understanding. Help me out to spread awareness, so empathy can be achieved.

For more information about food allergies, visit:

Food Allergy Research & Education

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team

Kids with Food Allergies

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Traveling with Food Allergies

Last month, I planned a trip back home for the summer. This trip translates to 9 hours of flying with 1 stop and a 3 hour layover in between. I know: Exhausting!

A week before the trip, I started feeling extremely anxious about flying because my children have food allergies. I have traveled with my kids before, but this time it was different. Since last time, Paulo has developed a dairy allergy and Penny’s allergies have become more severe. At this point, I know exactly what I have to do before flying in order to prevent an allergic reaction: check airline allergy policies, call the airline, bring extra medication and epinephrine auto-injectors, pack allergy-friendly snacks, pack wipes and bring allergy allert wristbands. We have traveled with Delta before and they have been very accomodating with food allergies, so I decided to book our flight with them. To see their peanut allergy policy click here.

Once at the gate, I informed the airline staff  about Penny’s peanut allergy. To my surprise, they had it on the passenger’s list and had already informed the flight crew. We were able to pre-board and wipe down our seats, eating tray tables and window. When it was time for the crew to serve snacks, an announcement was made- they said that they were not going to serve any peanut products due to a passenger’s peanut allergy. However, they didn’t ask other passengers to refrain from eating peanuts. According to a flight attendant it was because they ” couldn’t stop anyone from eating any peanut products on-board”. Luckily, our first flight was smooth: no allergic reactions! 🙂

We got to our first destination and layover: N.Y. At the airport, Penny started coughing and sneezing. Later on, her eyes turned red and became very itchy. I was 100% sure that she hadn’t ingested any allergens, so I proceeded to give her benadryl. About an hour later she looked like she was feeling better: coughing had subsided and she was barely scratching her eyes.

When the layover was almost over and it was time to board the plane, I proceeded to tell the airline staff about the allergy and went on to pre-board and wipe down our area. Again, the airline refrained from serving any peanut products. However, this time there was no announcement made. Two hours into this flight, Penny’s allergy started to get worse. She had nasal congestion, started sneezing again, her eyes became itchy and started to swell up. To my knowledge, Penny has never experienced an anaphylactic reaction, so everytime she starts showing any sign of an allergic reaction, I get anxious. I kept observing her closely- I had given her benadryl a few hours before and it wasn’t time to giver her a second dose.

She hadn’t eaten any dairy or peanut products, which lead me to belive that her allergy was, in this case, a cause of “environment pollution”. Meaning that there were enough peanut particles in the air to cause an allergic reation. At one point, one of her eyes was almost swollen shut, so I talked to the flight attendant, explained what was going on and told her that if things didn’t take a turn for the better anytime soon, I was going to use the EpiPen. What worried me the most was not knowing if her breathing was affected. The flight attendant asked for a Doctor on board, there was none. Lucky for us, there was a medical student sitting right in front of us and was able to listen to Penny’s lungs with a stethoscope. She was able to confirm that Penny’s lungs were not wheezing. This helped me calm down a bit.
We still had about an hour and a half of flight left and we were in the middle of the ocean, which meant that there was no way that the pilot could’ve made an emergency landing if it was necessary. Instead, they contacted a hospital, where a Doctor instructed me to give her a second dose of benadryl. Those were the longest hours that I’ve ever lived. I felt so scared, helpless, lonely and desperate. Thankfully, the airline crew was wonderful: they kept checking on us constantly and offered a great amount of support.

The second dose of benadryl “hit the spot”. Consequently the swelling started to slowly go down and you could tell that Penny was starting to feel better. As soon as the airplaine landed, I called Penny’s allergist and explained the situation. He told me that since she had not eaten the allergen, I should just keep observing her and if she showed any signs of breathing distress, then I should use the EpiPen and take her to the nearest ER. When we got off the airplane, the airline had arranged for EMTs to check on Penny. Later that day, she was seen by a pediatrician in my hometown who started her on cortizone and by next day you couldn’t see any allergy signs.

Up to this day, I still ask myself what went wrong. I wonder if there were enough peanut particles in the air from the previous flight or if someone in our flight was eating any peanut products. Did I wipe our seats and table trays correctly? Was this an inevitable incident? These questions and a lot of other ones remain unanswered. However, I have the satisfaction that I did everything that could’ve been done and that at the end Penny was fine.

On the other hand, I ask myself: What are certain airlines waiting to completely eliminate peanuts on all of their flights? I wonder how important is an “inconvenience” over a persons life. My children don’t have a choice- their lives depend on it. It’s not fair to put someone’s life at risk over a bag of peanuts. Let’s have some empathy and support people with food allergies. Help me create awareness in order to achieve a change. It’s time to make a change and help people stay safe!

Support is Key

Two years have gone by since we learned that Penny has life-threatening food allergies. It has been all about learning and although difficult, because we’ve had to change our lifestyle, it has resulted in an enriching experience.

 

In the beginning, I made sure I had read all the information pamphlets that the allergist had provided. I searched online and visited food allergy online organizations that provide helpful resources and made sure that the people around me understood that Penny couldn’t eat dairy, peanuts or tree nuts.

 

When Penny had her 1st food allergy blood test, the results were not too high. Interestingly, the result for the dairy allergy was in the “safe zone”, meaning that she could’ve participated in an oral food challenge because it showed that the allergy was not severe. However, she had only experienced allergic reactions to dairy, and they were not pretty. On the other hand, the peanut allergy results indicated that an ingestion of peanut would mean a severe reaction; luckily she had never eaten peanuts.

 

A few months after Penny’s diagnosis, I decided that I was going back to work. I was blessed with a friend who offered to watch Penny while I worked. My friend, Yeshica, understood the severity of her allergies and was always cautious. I am happy to say that while Penny was in her care she didn’t experience a single reaction. In my opinion, it is people like her that make the world a better place. ☺ I was lucky to have found someone with great empathy and understanding that also gave me great support.

 

A year went by, it was time for Penny’s yearly check-up with her allergist. The blood work revealed that now both of her allergies were severe. The allergist told me that it was unnecessary to do a skin prick test- the blood work results were so high that it was obvious that the skin test was going to be positive. Also, it could cause her a severe reaction. This made me more anxious. I felt desperate, helpless, lost… At this point, Yeshica was not going to be able to watch Penny anymore while I worked and I looked for daycares with good food allergy policies without success. I wondered if I was being too picky, but I went with what my gut told me. I always put my kids before anything, so I decided to stay home in order to teach Penny what she can and cannot eat.

 

A couple months after, I had a doctor’s appointment. I enrolled Penny in an hourly care center for a couple hours. The center is a peanut free facility and knows about her allergies. After my appointment, Penny still had one more hour left before I had to pick her up, but I decided to pick her up early. When I got to the daycare center, she was scratching her eyes. I thought she was tired. Then all of a sudden she started sneezing. How strange! By the time we got to the car, she was covered in hives…When we got home, one of her eyes was swollen. I panicked! I thought: “In the daycare center they couldn’t have given her any of her allergens because she has a special diet and she even wears an allergy bracelet.” So, I proceeded to give her Benadryl and called the allergy clinic. Their staff instructed me to take her to the ER. I live literally 5 minutes from the hospital, which seemed like an hour. We got there, and thankfully the antihistamine had done its work. We were kept there for about 4 hours to make sure that no biphasic reaction ocurred and were later sent home. A biphasic anaphylactic reaction is when symptoms recur without the exposure to the allergen. It can happen within 1-72 hours. Thankfully, everything was fine! This experience confirmed that I had taken the right choice by staying home with Penny. Also, now I think back and ask myself if I made the right choice by giving her the antihistamine instead of the epinephrine… If this happens now, I would use the auto-injector- “when in doubt, use the Epi” is my new motto.

 

After this incident, it has become extremely difficult for me to leave Penny under the care of anybody else. Just the thought of leaving her at a daycare center or with anyone else gives me a lot of anxiety… This is when my husband suggested that I find a local Food Allergy Support Group. I searched everywhere without success. The closest one is, at least, an hour away. So, instead, I started this blog in hopes of creating awareness about food allergies. That same month, after a lot of reading and writing, it occurred to me to start a Support Group. Ahhhh, “necessity is the mother of invention”, isn’t it? So, I started asking organizations, clinics, patient advocacy, and pretty much everybody for help. Everyone seemed so excited about the idea, but nobody seemed to know in which direction to point or guide me. Finally, I thought to myself: “if there’s anyone that might want to help, it has to be someone from the allergy clinic.” I was right! The whole staff was very excited and started moving towards helping me create a support group.

 

Last week was our first Support Group meeting! An allergist and the head of the allergy clinic guided it. They talked about food allergies in general, explained what anaphylaxis is, what are the symptoms and what to do in case someone experiences anaphylaxis. They taught us how to use the EpiPen and the Auvi-Q auto-injectors, and answered questions. The next meetings are going to be guided by us, the patients, with the support of the allergist and his team. I am so happy to have finally found the right group of people to help us go through this process and to support each other in every step of the way. Like I’ve said before, in my opinion, Support is the Key when it comes to Food Allergies.

Eating Out With Food Allergies

For some reason that I still don’t understand, most outings or social activities revolve around food. At least, this used to be our case. If there was a birthday, we had to go eat-out. If family members came to visit, we would go to a restaurant. I mean, pretty much anything involved food. I was O.K. with this until my youngest child was diagnosed with Food Allergies; this made things different for us. Now, if we go out of the house, we bring allergy-friendly food with us everywhere. It’s fun, like having a picnic every time. We rarely eat at restaurants, and when we do, the whole experience is accompanied by a safety “ritual”. So, what do we do?

  • We look for an allergy friendly restaurant. Allergy Eats has become our best friend when it comes to finding restaurants that accommodate my kids food allergies.
  • If I’m not sure that the restaurant is accommodating, I just call them. It is surprising how many restaurants are happy to accommodate food allergies.
  • Before leaving the house, I make sure that we have 2 EpiPens and a bottle of Benadryl in our bag. I NEVER leave the house without our epinephrine auto-injectors.
  • Once I arrive at the restaurant, I let the host/hostess know about the food allergies.
  • Once we know in which table we’re sitting, I wipe down the table and seats to make sure there is no allergen residue that can potentially start a reaction.
  • When we are seated, the first thing I do is make sure that the server knows about the food allergies and understands the severity of it. We have a child with life-threatening allergies.
  • If it’s possible, I try talking to the chef/cook. This way I make sure that he/she knows about the food allergies and how important it is for us that there is no cross-contact.
  • We try to order allergy-friendly meals for everybody.
  • When the food arrives, I try to make sure that there is no obvious allergen at sight.
  • I try to remind others and myself to not use their/my utensils on someone else’s food.
  • If everything goes well, which has been our experience, we thank the server and the chef/cook for the meal and for making sure that our children didn’t have an allergic reaction. A nice tip always helps and it shows the staff that we appreciate the extra effort they put in keeping the experience allergy friendly.
  • If the restaurant hasn’t been rated in Allergy Eats, it’s a good idea to rate it. This way, you help other families that are looking for a safe, allergy friendly place to eat.

 

Now, if we are invited to eat at a friend/family member’s house, things go in a similar way. Here’s what I do:

  • I remind my friend/family member about the allergies.
  • Ask what is going to be served and recommend some allergy friendly substitutes to cook with.
  • Ask to help with the cooking. Or, ask if I can bring some of the food. This way I know what is being cooked and make sure that the ingredients are allergy friendly.
  • If your friend or family member doesn’t want you involved with the cooking, but you still doubt that the food will be allergy friendly, bring the food for the allergic person. Always trust your instincts, I know I do and they’re usually right.
  • I also, wipe down the eating area before seating. I don’t want to risk it. You never know when someone else has eaten an allergen in that area.

 

There are also other things that I’ve learned from our experiences and that might be helpful in avoiding allergic reactions:

  • Make sure to ALWAYS remind the restaurant staff (host, server, chef) about the food allergies, even if they know you. You never know when they are too busy and/or might forget about the allergy.
  • If someone on the table orders something that’s not allergy friendly, try to have that person seat as far away as possible from the person that has food allergies. Be mindful of avoiding cross-contamination of utensil if sharing food. After that person (with the food that has allergens) is done eating ask him/her, politely, to wash their hands.

Enjoy your meal. Food Allergies don’t need to be an obstacle with the right precautions.

Stay Safe!