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!