The day my son had his first allergic reaction will be forever etched in my mind. He was eight months old and the reaction happened shortly after he was given the H1N1 flu vaccine, which contained egg. His tiny little body, already ravaged by eczema, was covered in these angry red hives within minutes. This was my first experience with what would soon become our new normal.
Food allergies in children have been on the rise in the last decade or so. Everybody knows at least one child who carries an auto-injector (a medical device that delivers one dose of life saving medicine) at all times, even if it’s not obvious to them. Most schools have a policy in place to take care of students with food allergies. Even local shopping malls are starting to carry stock auto-injectors and train their staff how to use them, just in case a patron should require emergency help. So why is it then that having a food allergy carries such a stigma?
I ask this question because I have seen how many people, usually adults, act as though a food allergy was an issue made up to inconvenience the rest of the world. Or at least those who make a school lunch for their kids each day. As both the parent of a child with food allergies and one without, it saddens and scares me that others do not take food allergies as seriously as they should. If only these individuals could spend a day in the shoes of a child with food allergies to see what it is like.
I can give you a pretty good idea what they would see. For starters, children with food allergies tend to have fewer play dates and are often left off the birthday party lists of their classmates. I had one mother tell me it was just too much work to make sure her home was safe for my son and it would put a damper on the party atmosphere they were creating for her child’s birthday. At the time my heart broke a little, but thankfully my son William was too young to notice. That was two years ago and well before social events like a birthday party were of much importance to him. But that changed when he started school. School is naturally the center of social activity for it’s young inhabitants and rightly so. School is where life long friendships are formed. It’s where children from all sorts of backgrounds find acceptance…or not. A child with a life threatening food allergy is just one example of the kids that often don’t fit in. Being the only child not to receive a party invitation makes that divide even greater.
Children with food allergies often develop anxiety issues. It’s not hard to understand why. Imagine fearing that every bite of food or sip of drink you take could kill you. Yes that sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth. Sometimes just the smell of one’s food allergen can cause an anaphylactic (life threatening) reaction. My greatest fear was not so much what William would eat at school (because his lunches are carefully prepared at home), but rather what he might touch. The last thing on a kid’s mind is washing their hands properly before they touch the handrail on the stairs, use the shared paint supplies in the classroom or play with a toy on the playground. The residue from peanut butter on toast consumed for breakfast can stay on a child’s hands, face and even their clothes, for hours. That same residue can cause my son’s throat to swell shut and cut off his air supply.
Many people have told me that keeping my son’s food allergens away from him is not their responsibility. That it is my job, and my husband’s, to keep him safe. I don’t disagree, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder what these same people would do if they saw a child dart out into the path of an oncoming vehicle or pick up a knife carelessly left on a counter-top. Would they just watch the potential accident unfold or would they try and intervene? I’m betting on the latter. So why is it such an inconvenience to remove a few food items from the table?
When my son walks out the door each day he carries the weight of his own safety on his shoulders. He shouldn’t have to worry that the adults around him don’t.
Suzanne Rudge, owner of the blog MapleMouseMama, is a Canadian mama of two, happily married to her supportive husband. Suzanne blogs about life in general, the trials and tribulations of raising a family, reviews and giveaways. Suzanne tackles issues like Food Allergy Awareness as she does planning a Disney vacation; with passion! You can follow Suzanne living her dream at www.MapleMouseMama.com.