“Mom! This is what I want to wear to A and R’s house!”
My son is standing at the bottom of the stairs holding an outfit specially selected to impress his two friends. He is fully clothed in a different outfit.
“OK, sweetie. Set them on the bed in the guest room and I’ll pack them up.” I come downstairs holding a plastic bag that contains changes of clothes for me and the baby. I add C’s outfit to the stash. We do this every time we go to play at A and R’s house. We’ll stow the freshly laundered clothes in a bag that wasn’t used for food and take them with us. As soon as we get to the house, we’ll leave our shoes at the door and go to the bathroom to change and scrub our hands with soap and water. Once we’re changed, C can run off to play with the boys while their mom, Sherry, and I can enjoy and afternoon of catching up.
Sherry always thanks me profusely for complying with the arcane rules for coming into their home. I wave off her gratitude. “I have no interest in killing your son,” I say. “Changing clothes isn’t hard.”
Sherry’s younger son R, who is 6, is one of the legions of children in the US who has food allergies. He is allergic to multiple foods and medications, but his nut and milk allergies are the most severe and dangerous. Not only would ingesting milk or nuts trigger a potentially lethal reaction, but R has a topical allergy to nuts: merely coming in skin contact with nut oils would cause anaphylaxis.
From the time R was a baby, there were clues that his body was reacting to certain foods. He was breastfed and showed incredible sensitivity to his mother’s diet. He would get terrible gas (I was once in the room when he passed gas and I can testify to the intensity of the smell) and showed a lot of discomfort. He got a rash after his mother ate a peanut butter sandwich. Sherry insisted something was wrong, but there were no immediate answers from her pediatrician. She put herself on an elimination diet to try and relieve his discomfort and hoped R would grow out of it.
Everything changed one day when R’s older brother shared a peanut butter cracker with him while they were sitting in the car waiting for Sherry to finish loading stuff into the trunk. By the time Sherry looked at the boys, 11-month-old R was swollen up like Jabba the Hut. Sherry made a judgement call and drove to a nearby urgent care center where they administered allergy meds and transferred R to an emergency room for further treatment.
Ever since that episode, Sherry has been on a merry-go-round of reactions, tests, and lifestyle changes. A topical allergy means dramatic restrictions of what food R can be around. This is the family who NEEDS those warnings about foods being processed in a facility that processes nuts; nothing they buy can have come into contact with nuts. They can only eat in a handful of restaurants that are completely nut-free. They limit activities to places that don’t have food. And social interactions require special planning and special concessions to R’s allergies. Concessions like changing into clothes that haven’t been exposed to food as soon as you come into their house.
Sherry doesn’t know what the future holds for R. As he gets older, he is able to understand more of the rules and restrictions of his allergies. Recently, he has been allowed to walk through a grocery store because he can remember not to touch anything on the shelves. He goes to speech therapy at a local school where he’s confined to a food-free classroom, but for the most part Sherry homeschools him to control his exposure to foods. A gregarious boy, R is likely to outgrow homeschooling and his allergy playgroup in a few years and he’ll want to be around more kids. When that happens Sherry doesn’t know what she’ll do. She doesn’t want to clip his wings but letting him fly solo could have terrible consequences.
After 6 years of caring for a child with topical allergies, Sherry has some useful strategies and tips for other allergy moms. Click through to find out more about life as a mom of a child with topical food allergies!
Photo credit: Photo stock
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