What goes through your mind when someone you love is diagnosed with a food allergy? SAGE's Director of Nutrition, Lesley Vogel, can answer that question. She is the mother of a food allergic child. In this two-part series, she blogs about her experience and how it changed her life.
"It's not like it came as a surprise. I mean, there was a reason I brought my daughter to the allergist in the first place, right? Just a few weeks earlier, I had broken off a piece of a banana-walnut bagel (that did not contain a walnut) and given it to my whining 2-year old to chew on. Hives all over her face and swollen lips were all I needed to know – she must be VERY allergic to nuts. So when the doctor gave me the blood test results, I was prepared. I smiled thinking, 'Yeah, I knew that.'
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: my daughter has a food allergy. Our life is about to get complicated. If we aren't careful about the food she eats every single day for the rest of her life, we could lose her. The doctor handed me a prescription for epinephrine and I scooped up my sweet little princess and squeezed her tight. We were off to begin our journey facing life with food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. And I was scared.
I know what you might be thinking - I already had all the answers since I'm a registered dietitian - but I was in no way prepared for the day to day challenges I would face. Spending hours in the grocery store learning what brands were safe for my daughter to eat. Purging my pantry of anything with nuts or a nut warning label. Creating plans to keep her safe at preschool. Explaining food allergies to family and friends. Taking her to birthday parties, and then dealing with her disappointment when she couldn't eat what everyone else was eating.
People looked at me like I was crazy. I had to deal with comments like 'When we were kids we didn't have any of this stuff,' and 'Can't you just give her some Benadryl if she accidentally gets something?' Once, someone actually said, 'What do you want us to do next? Cut down all the trees for anyone who might be allergic to pollen?'
If you are a parent of a child with a food allergy, you know what I mean. It's not easy, and you can never, ever let your guard down. I did once, and the result was an injection of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room while on vacation in the Cayman Islands. That was my wake-up call.
Through the years we've learned together as a family to live a normal life in the real world. We go out to eat, we go on vacation, we do everything other families do with added precautions.
My daughter is now a happy and healthy teenager. She outgrew her peanut allergy but the tree nut allergy remains. She carries epinephrine wherever she goes (and yes, I always remind her). She says 'no' to risky foods and to things from bakeries unless she can check the label. I am comfortable in her ability to give herself epinephrine if she needs it."
Tomorrow Lesley will have tips for helping your child adjust to life with a food allergy. For more information on food allergies and how you can raise awareness click here.