Anxiety, Food Allergy Management, Preventing Reactions

Freedom from Food Allergy Fears

Freedom from Food Allergy Fears
anxiety
Many parents of food allergic children live in unnecessary fear and create overly restrictive environments for their children

Recently a post called Flipping the Lid on Food Allergies on AANMA caused a bit of a stir in the social media circles. The article contends that not all but most food allergic children can be in close proximity with their allergens without issue and certainly without causing an anaphylactic reaction (See the study led by Sicherer that concluded casual contact with peanut won’t elicit a reaction in most peanut allergic children); however, many parents assume their FA children have to avoid not just consuming their allergen, but even being near it. The article alludes to the fact that these parents are demanding extensive yet unnecessary accommodations for their children – we can assume requests for peanut-free classrooms or schools would be classified as unnecessary requests – and that they live in constant and unnecessary fear.

I personally don’t understand why there was much hubbub about the article’s content or its conclusions or why the author even prefaced the piece with, “This column is controversial.” The author states that the medical community is, at least partly, to blame for instilling fear in their food allergic patients and their caregivers. And I say social and news media fan the fire as well since we can read extensively about food allergy tragedies and studies like this one where the researchers smeared peanut butter on a table and found, “Immediately post application and for 110 days of collecting, detectable Ara h 1 was found each time a sample was taken. There was no obvious allergen degradation over time.”  (Do we really need a study to know that smearing peanut butter on a surface and then not cleaning it will result in peanut still being on that surface days later? I think the more noteworthy result is that all traces of Ara h1 were removed simply by using a commercial cleaning wipe.)

Interestingly, around the same time the aforementioned AANMA article was posted, I read an article unrelated to food allergies about there being only two basic human emotions: love and fear. It got me to thinking that most of what we do that gets us labeled as the crazy allergy moms or simply not taken seriously by people outside of the food allergy community comes from fear, when we do things like decline or leave social events, hustle our child away from the kid eating a PB&J and proceed to give the mom dirty looks, or when we ask a parent to not pull out the peanut snacks and launch into a tirade at her slightest hesitation – “You don’t understand. My child could die!” These actions are taken out of fear, not love. Of course we love our children, but we’re motivated by fear, fear of anaphylaxis or worse, and our actions and responses can become irrational and unhealthy.

If the Flipping the Lid post, or this one angers you, ask yourself why that is. Is it because your child has had an unexplained anaphylactic reaction or is indeed so sensitive to her allergens that she’s had a contact or airborne reaction? Or do you have a young or orally fixated food allergic child or a child lacking impulse control or with special needs?  If that’s the case, then these posts simply don’t apply to you or your situation and of course you are justified in taking extra precautions and requesting extensive accommodations for your food allergic child to minimize contact with her allergen.

However, if you have a neurotypical, older child with no evidence of airborne sensitivity and you find yourself overly restricting your child’s life due to his food allergy, perhaps it’s time to examine your feelings and motivations. Obviously, you’re free to manage your child’s allergy however you see fit and nobody, especially a stranger on the internet, should judge you for how you do it, though you might want to consider how you and your child are affected. (See KFA for more information about children’s anxieties in regard to their food allergies.) And know that there’s no shame in seeking outside help if you need it, either from a food allergy coach or, if your or your child’s anxieties are especially debilitating, from a therapist. And consider reducing your time spent on food allergy social media, even if it means not reading this blog for a while. 🙂

Has your food allergy anxiety lessened or grown worse with experience? I’d love to hear from you!


 

6 Comments

  1. Kari

    I was less worried about things til my son had constant stomach aches and diarrhea when at school and nothing when away. I would have worried about anxiety, but he wanted to go to school and seemed fine. I’d keep him home sick, thinking he was, but then he never had any other symptoms (fever, tiredness, vomiting), but then the hives came. We realized he was having contact allergic reactions – not anaphylactic mind you, affecting his ability to be at school and learn.

    As we know, kids don’t wash hands after eating and kids touch their faces thousands of times in a day (and touches to eyes, nose, and mouth are most worrisome) – just do the math to calculate odds of a peanut reaction. Also, those pesky peanut proteins, if unwashed can remain for a long time – months.

    I asked the school to have kids wash hands after eating and for him to have a nut free table and classroom. The school thought I was a crazy overprotective parent. They wanted more proof than a simple pediatrician’s note or stories of anaphylaxis reactions prior to this.

    I went to his allergist who suggested and did a skin test – just to prove how reactive he was. Skin tests are safe, kids don’t have anaphylactic reactions from a skin test. My son completed 3 minutes of the skin test and had to abort it (they should be 10 minutes). I’ve seen studies that say .02% of skin tests result in anaphylaxis. My son had an anaphylactic reaction and needed epinephrine. I became more cautious afterwards! However, I am very calm and matter of fact about it with my son. You have to be so that he won’t panic when having reactions. Some are small, some are major, but you need to be calm about it.

    Every child is different. Every parent wants to protect their child. I would do anything I could to prevent an allergic reaction from ending his life, or irreparably changing it. i found a school that didn’t think we were “crazy.” All kids wash their hands after eating (this prevents any germ spreading and illness too), he eats at an allergy free table (that is monitored), and no food goes in his classroom. He participates in tons of “normal” things without a problem. We are careful.

    Epinephrine might not always work. My child has a right to be able to concentrate and learn in a safe environment. I see nothing wrong with keeping peanuts in the cafeteria and out of the classroom.

    I don’t think anyone else has a right to judge a parent’s reasonable protection of their child. Minimally, they should understand the need to protect any child. Every child has different thresholds of tolerance and I would trust school administrators, school nurses, and doctors to work out the assessment.

    My son sits in a car seat. He wears a bike helmet. I have him wash his hands. All simple things which can help keep him safe and help him protect himself. I don’t believe he has developed anxiety because I taught him how to sit properly in a booster and buckle up. We’ve been in a car accident. He doesn’t have anxiety over getting in cars and using a booster seat w/a seat belt. He was taught to ride on the side of the road, facing cars, and wearing a helmet. He doesn’t have anxiety because he knows what could happen if he didn’t. He just knows how to keep as safe as possible. Could he get in a car accident and not be ok – yes. Could he get hit or fall off of a bike. Yes. That is how life works. We do what we can to protect our children. There are plenty of parents who do these things for their child(ren). Yet, I wouldn’t say they are crazy.

    I don’t believe I’m causing a child anxiety by teaching him safe ways to protect himself. I’m just raising a child who can live in a world that is more dangerous for him than for some other children without anaphylactic allergies. People will always judge. People will always be annoyed by being inconvenienced with precautions that they don’t need and only benefit others.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. As I said in the post, if you have a child who is contact or airborne sensitive, then it’s an entirely different story and taking extra precautions are warranted. Best to you and your family.

      Sent from my iPhone

      Reply
      1. kari.bullion@yahoo.com

        Thanks. I thought you were saying studies show you can’t be contact/airborne. Sorry if I ranted too much. I’ve had a bad week. Hate facing the discrimination etc – especially from families and people I think of as friends.

        Sent from my iPad

        Reply
  2. Nicely written article! When my son was diagnosed 12 years ago, a behavioral pediatrician explained during a lecture to food allergic parents, that when our children are toddlers, we are to be the prison guard. The children are too young to not lick any interesting surface available, then we need to eventually move to warden, teaching them to police themselves with help until the teen years where our roles move to warden. The bottom line is like you are saying, use your judgement based on your child’s ages and needs, but I think you bringing up fear is profound. I believe that fear is what keeps some parents from moving to warden. You are right, some kids are airborne allergic, my friend’s son when into anaphylactic shock during an airplane change two months ago. This is their challenge, but they are well aware of their limitations and risks and make conscious choices.

    Thanks for the bringing up the point of fear, I think that is an important topic to discuss. Is fear holding back parents from their next natural role.

    Reply
  3. Jen

    Hello there! For me it’s not a fear of airborne so much as it is contact. Yes, I teach my PNA daughter to always wash her hands and not touch her face, but she is 6 and inevitably will make mistakes. If kids in her classroom are eating peanut butter or nuts and the oils/proteins transfer from their hands to other desks, to pencil sharpeners, to shared supplies, etc. it increases her risk of an anaphylactic reaction. Seeing as how she spends 8 hours a day mostly in that small class room, it can be dangerous. Same thing at family parties where all the kiddos are eating peanut butter cookies. For me, it’s a “I’d rather be a safe wackadoodle mom” than sorry later. 😉

    Reply

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