Eight years ago my son was diagnosed with multiple severe (some potentially life-threatening) food allergies. What I remember now are several years of living in a nervous haze, wondering whether each day would bring the unexpected, either on my own watch or by receiving that dreaded phone call saying that he had been exposed to something which could send him into anaphylaxis.
There are several lessons we’ve learned over the years as food allergy parents. But mostly, it really all comes down to preparedness. Being prepared help you to both live with less anxiety and maintain your composure in the case of an emergency. Here are some suggestions for staying sane as a parent of a child with severe food allergies:
12 THINGS FOOD ALLERGY PARENTS CAN DO TO STAY SANE
HAVE EMERGENCY MEDICINES READY
Do not get lax about bringing your emergency medicines with you. This sounds like a no-brainer but you would be surprised at how many people leave home without their emergency medicines. You can put them in a case that hangs from a belt loop or keep them in a purse just as you would your wallet or keys. My son keeps them on-hand at all times in his school backpack, or a bag he takes with him to parties and on play-dates. Companies make all different cases now that can be strapped to clothing or even worn on a wrist or ankle, so you and your child can decide what works best for you both.
GET A PRESCRIPTION
Speaking of your wallet… Have your doctor write an extra prescription for epinephrine (undated). Put it in your wallet and forget about it. That is, until the day when you realize you have left your epinephrine at home. This was one of the best tips I received from a parent when my son was first diagnosed.
Have cleansing wipes on-hand to clean off arm rests, children’s rides, and other potential hazards. You can store them in a purse or in the pocket or glove compartment in your car. You never know what has residue on it from the previous person who touched that item. (This is good practice not just for food allergies but for germs too.)
Keep in mind that cleansing products are preferred,
If you’re bringing a piece of cake or a treat to a party for your allergic child, consider bringing an extra piece since kids have a tendency to drop items on the floor and to touch one another’s food. Bringing extras will save you time and apprehension — bring extras just in case.
Know what food options will be available for your child wherever you are headed. If you suspect there may not be options available, bring plenty of food with you. Once again, you would be surprised at how many people expect there to be allergy-free foods available, only to arrive and have nothing safe to eat. Keep in mind that others may be completely unfamiliar with the severity of food allergies, especially since the term is often misused by those with food intolerances.
WEAR A SIGN
When your child is out of your care, consider having him or her wear something that explains to caregivers that your child has food allergies. There are age-appropriate bracelets, necklaces, pins, t-shirts and hats available – for toddlers to teens – to identify those with food allergies.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Use your expired epinephrine for practice purposes. The epinephrine injector is a unique type of shot, and practicing will help you prepare for an emergency situation. This will also help you to remain calm in the event of an emergency. (Your doctor may suggest practicing on an orange as putting the injector through the skin of the orange closely mimics what it feels like to give the shot to a person.) Once you get the hang of it, you may want to practice in front of your child so he or she will understand what will happen in an emergency situation. If your child is old enough to administer his or her own medication, make sure that he or she practices too.
READ THE LABELS
Become an expert label reader. Know the hidden ingredients in foods that may present a problem for your child. Don’t count out the potential dangers of cross-contamination. Call companies and go to company websites for nutritional information. Continue to read labels even on items you purchase regularly, since it is not uncommon for companies to change their food formulas.
KEEP IMORTANT INFORMATION HANDY
Have a list of your child’s food allergies, blood type, prescriptions, and doctor information stored in your home, on your cell phone, in your wallet, in your child’s backpack, or any other place that might be helpful in case of an emergency. Some moms of younger children even store a copy near their child’s car seat or in their glove compartment.
ENLIST A FRIEND
If your child spends a lot of time at one or two friends’ houses, take over a box of safe snacks for your child to keep at their home and eat while he or she is there.
Consider downloading an App for your phone that will provide easy GPS directions to the nearest hospital when you are away from home. This will give you added peace of mind in the case of an emergency.
TEACH CHILDREN TO BE THEIR OWN ADVOCATE
Help your child to become his or her own best advocate. Teach him or her to read labels, to ask questions, to carry their medication, and to be cautious. Some parents feel hesitant because they do not want their child to live in constant fear. However, teaching our children will actually prevent them from having to live in that constant fear.
Also, when parents are comforted knowing that their children can be trusted to advocate for themselves, it benefits both the children and the parents.