When Touching Food Could Kill Your Child: Life For A Food Allergy Mom

“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!

  • Topical Food Allergies 1 of 9
    food allergies

    Click through to learn more about life for a child with topical food allergies.

  • Playdates 2 of 9

    R simply can't go into other people's houses unless it's the house of another family with a topical allergy. For R to socialize, Sherry invites other kids to their house or sets up meetings at food-free locations. Museums and swimming pools are safe bets. Birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese? Nope. 

    Photo credit: photo stock


  • Sports and Activities 3 of 9

    Sherry does significant research before signing R up for sports and activities. Outdoor sports like soccer are fine as long as he doesn't eat the snacks other parents bring along. R and his brother recently started tai kwan do at a studio where no food is allowed. The boys also love doing things like Lego club meetings at a local Lego store. Because it's in a shopping mall, it's not a perfectly safe environment so Sherry keeps a close eye on R to watch for any reactions.

    Photo credit: photo stock 

  • Cosmetics and Cleaning Products 4 of 9

    Do you know how many cosmetics contain nut oils? Neither did Sherry until she had to stop using them. Numerous times, she and I have been out shopping and I recommend a brand of moisturizer while we wander through Sephora. She'll look at the box and put it down before she's halfway through the ingredients list because it contains jojoba or another nut product.

    Photo credit: photo stock

  • Pet Food Safety 5 of 9

    Sherry got the boys a dog a couple years ago. The dog has been of benefit to R because exposure to pet dander has actually reduced his sensitivity to cats and dogs according to his periodic allergy tests. But finding allergy safe dog food has been a challenge. There are about three brands that are safe for R to be around and two of them are under recall. The other brand is prescription only and costs an arm and a leg. Sherry works with her vet's office to get the right food for the dog.

    Photo credit: photo stock

  • Restaurants 6 of 9
    fast food

    Sherry's research has turned up local branches of a few national chain restaraunts that are completely nut free: Red Robin, Chipotle and Subway are the ones close to Sherry's house and the kids love going there for a treat. From calling around and talking to other allergy parents, Sherry has found local restaurants with nut free kitchens who can work with her for allergy safe meals.

    Photo credit: photo stock

  • House Hunters 7 of 9

    A few years ago, Sherry and her husband took over his grandmother's house after she passed away. Before they could move in, they had to gut the kitchen completely, bring in new flooring and rugs and paint the entire house in order to clean out food residues. The house boasts a huge yard for the boys to play in - with one red flag. There are nearby walnut trees and the nuts are often in the grass. During walnut season, the squirrels that bring nuts into their yard are Sherry's avowed enemies.

    Photo credit: photo stock

  • Life Outside The Bubble 8 of 9

    Every few months, Sherry and I like to get together for kid free time together. We generally enjoy getting a pedicure and lunch, which puts Sherry directly into the path of substances that could trigger an allergic reaction. We get the pedicures first so her nails have a chance to fully dry before she gets home; she'll need to shower immediately in order to remove any residue from lotions. After we finish eating, she goes to the bathroom to scrub her hands so there's no food residue on them when she touches her wallet. She keeps that in a bag that she won't bring into her house. She throws a sheet over the seat of her car instead of risking getting nut oils inside the car. When she gets home, her clothes go right into the laundry and she steers clear of R until she's showered. Her husband does the same every night after work.

    Photo credit: photo stock

  • Attitude Check 9 of 9
    mom and kid

    There are always people who don't believe in the severity of R's allergies. Sherry's own father was one of them and never stopped nagging her to bring the kids over for a visit. But the doubters have never held an epi pen in one hand and a phone connected to 911 in the other while R had an anaphylactic reaction to a medication that had previously be fine. His sensitivities shift over time and require constant vigilance. Sherry has learned to live as safely as she can to protect R and she's developed a thick skin against criticism. She's not just over reacting. This is real and it's a matter of life and death for her son. People who can't get on board and show the kind of caution that being with their family requires, can't spend time with their family.

    Photo credit: photo stock

Photo credit: Photo stock

Article Posted 3 years Ago

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