Your Child Has Allergies – What Now?
A 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 30 million American children suffer from some type of allergy; whether skin, nasal/respiratory, or food-related, allergies are a very real and very serious part of life of a large percentage of our kids. Fortunately, effective treatments exist that can enable your child to live a very normal life. Injections, over-the-counter medications, and prescriptions are widely used to successfully combat even the most severe allergy symptoms.
Aside from medication, however, what’s a parent to do? You certainly can’t go to lunch or recess with your child, and you (unfortunately) cannot expect other parents to understand and be prepared to deal with your child’s allergies. As the parent of a child with allergies, it is your job not only to be watchful of your child’s surroundings and choices, but to advocate with and educate others to prevent accidents and possibly tragedy. The first step, naturally, is to educate yourself.
Determine the dangers. Imagine that your child is allergic to peanuts, a relatively common allergy. First, ask your pediatrician what that means. If your child ingests peanuts, will she stop breathing? Break out? Swell up? When will symptoms subside? What steps should you take immediately (upon discovery of ingestion) and later (after treatment is administered)? In other words, should you call 911 right away or merely keep Epi-pens on hand?
An ounce of prevention. First, the easy part: remove all peanuts and peanut products from your home. Alert family members and close friends of your child’s allergy and remind them whenever your child spends time with them away from you. Make sure that a record of your child’s allergy exists in school documents, daycare files, and in any information you give to babysitters or nannies. Make a habit of checking packaged food labels; many seemingly innocuous foods are processed in the same plants as peanuts, leaving your child open to a reaction even without peanut ingestion.
Educate yourself. Of course it’s scary when your child has an allergic reaction, but it’s still your job to stay calm and take the steps necessary to relieve your child’s pain and/or discomfort. Find out which questions to ask restaurant servers regarding food preparation. Learn to use an Epi-pen. Determine your child’s tolerance; will just a trace of peanuts trigger a reaction, or does it take a large amount? Train yourself to notice what your child eats and when – in a worst-case scenario, you’ll want to be able to tell medical personnel exactly what he consumed that caused the reaction.
Educate your child. Every child is different. Your child’s allergies do not make her “weird.” Do not treat her allergies like a debilitating disease; instead, teach her to deal effectively with them even in your absence. Rehearse what she should say if she has a reaction when you’re not around and teach her to ask parents of friends whether their snacks or meals could contain peanuts. Don’t worry about whether your child understands the intricacies of allergic reactions. A simple, “When I eat stuff with peanuts in it, I get sick” is just fine.
Be your child’s advocate, but not his crutch. Instead of focusing on what he can’t eat (“No PB&J for you!”), emphasize what he can (“Apple slices with caramel! Your favorite!”). Teach him to look on the allergy as an occasional minor inconvenience rather than a permanent roadblock, and he’ll surely enjoy a happy, healthy, and fulfilled peanut-free existence.