Sunday, May 22, 2016

Food Allergies - The Basics

For those of you just joining us, last week I discussed with you how I attended the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) National Food Allergy Conference in Orlando, how I had a great experience, and how excited I am to share with you some of what I learned about what's going on in the world of food allergy research, education, advocacy, and living. As you know by now, our little guy (now 4 years old) has peanut and treenut allergies and it has changed our perspective on a lot of things in a lot of ways. We've had to learn a lot over the last 2.5 years since he was diagnosed, but one of the biggest things we've had to learn is something fairly basic:

What exactly IS a food allergy?

We all are familiar with allergies caused by pollen, dust mites, and animal dander since they affect so many people in the general populous - but not everyone is totally familiar with what food allergies really are. What makes them different than your everyday allergy sufferer? Since we have both of those in our house (yay!) - there are two things that I think stand out to me in terms of differences that I've observed:

1. Generally speaking, everyday seasonal/environmental allergies have a very, very low likelihood of killing the person who lives with them. You don't generally hear about people who allergies to maple pollen carrying around epipens. (Now - sometimes seasonal allergies go hand-in-hand with asthma, which does have a record of hospitalizations and deaths each year - so that should not be taken lightly either.)
2. Taking an antihistamine (i.e. Benedryl or Zyrtec) wonA co't help an anaphylactic reaction (and taking them daily won't protect you from a reaction either). The only thing that will surely avoid a reaction is avoiding the allergen itself.

So again - what IS a food allergy? 

Rather than trying to summarize and explain - take the 2.5 minutes of your life and watch this short video from the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID). It explains what happens in your body when you have a food allergy.

Back? Got it? OK, great.

So for those that skipped the video - when your body thinks that a common food (such as eggs, milk, peanuts, treenuts, soy, fish, shellfish, or wheat... or maybe even sesame) is an enemy, it sends out Immunoglobin E (or IgE) to attack it. When it does that, your body has attacks it and you have an allergic reaction. In some cases, this reaction can become anaphylactic and if not treated in a timely and effective manner - fatal. 

Anaphylaxis (n): Exaggerated allergic reaction to a foreign protein resulting from previous exposure to it (from

Here are a couple of graphics that I find really useful when it comes to determining what symptoms to look for as well as when to determine whether or not to use an epinephrine autoinjector. 

This graphic explains what symptoms to look for when you're trying to determine if a reaction is anaphylactic -
Remember to "Think FAST"!

This is so important to have in the back of your mind when assessing a reaction.
When in doubt, our default is to inject and call 911 - at least you've done ALL you can.
So you're out with your friends and their son has an allergy to say... peanuts. She leaves to go to the bathroom and asks you to keep an eye on her son - reminding you where the epinephrine autoinjector (the EpiPen or EpiPen junior are the most commonly used autoinjectors) is located. While she's gone - maybe the bathroom is far away or she's changing another child or there's a line or something, but she seems to be gone a while - her son somehow manages to ingest peanut products. Maybe he snuck a bite of a friend's sandwich or whatever - it doesn't matter. He's started to vomit profusely and looks so pale that he almost looks blue. Not wanting to take a chance, you go in her bag where she keeps his autoinjector... now what do you do?

Besides knowing the symptoms to look for, the next best thing you can do as a part of "the village" is to know how to use an autoinjector - preferably the one that your friend carries, especially if you're with them often. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to give you a graphic and a simple explanation of how to use the EpiPen/EpiPen Junior. 

So - here's what to do:

1. Remove the EpiPen from it's case and grip it in your fist - DO NOT put your thumb or fingers over either end. The last thing you want to do is accidentally stab yourself. 
2. Remove the blue locking cap from the top end - "blue to the sky". 
3. HOLD DOWN THE PATIENT if they are a child (they will likely fight you) and stab AND HOLD that thing as hard as you can into the meatiest part of their thigh MAKING SURE TO AVOID RECOILING THE PEN. Recoiling it will just make medicine fly everywhere not not actually administer it to the patient. COUNT TO TEN SLOWLY and remove the pen.
4. Massage the spot where you've injected the pen, lay down the patient, and elevate their legs. If they are vomiting or their tongue is swollen - lay them on their side. 
5. IMMEDIATELY after doing this call 911 (preferably from a landline, but know where you are if you're calling from a cell) and tell them you have a person who is having an anaphylactic reaction and need an ambulance immediately with epinephrine stocked as well as someone who knows how to administer it. This may sound like something they SHOULD know how to do - and many do - but always say it just incase. 
6. NOW contact the parents. Always administer medical care and get medical attention first in the case of a suspected anaphylactic reaction - every second counts. 

I think that the biggest things that I want anyone reading this to know about living with food allergies are:

1. Food allergies are a medical diagnosis and not a lifestyle choice. 25% of people believe they have food allergies, but only 3-4% actually have a medical diagnosis. That might seem crazy, but it gives an impression that this might be a lifestyle choice. It is not - and even some of that other 21-22% probably have some sort of an allergy that's never been diagnosed. Don't take it lightly. 

2. People with food allergies are not suffering. My son is far from suffering - he eats things normal kids eat, he's going to play soccer in the fall, he jumps around playgrounds and climbs like a monkey. He is normal in every other sense... ok, he's short... but other than that he's normal in every other sense. He's NOT suffering. He just can't eat peanut butter and most treenuts. Meh. 

3. I don't want you to change your life for my kid. I just want you to be aware and I want you and his friends to help protect him. I know that not all parents or people with food allergies agree with this - but the reality is that when my kid is in college, his roommate might keep a jar of peanut butter in the room or he might date a girl at some point who loves nuts. I want him to know how to handle and navigate the real world. 

So there you have it - the basics of food allergies. Have any questions? Leave a comment, drop a line, or check out the massive amounts of resources on the FARE website

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Food Allergies, Our Village, and Why It's Important

Last weekend I attended the FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) National Food Allergy Conference. As I sat in the conference room for one of the sessions typing away notes, I heard and saw a statistic on the screen that shocked me in my seat.

25% of anaphylactic allergic reactions in schools occur in people - both students and staff - who have never had a history or presented symptoms of a food allergy prior to the reaction.

25% - that's a quarter of all in-school anaphylactic reactions. I thought of a couple of friends I have that developed dairy and kiwi allergies in adulthood - in their mid/late 30's. I could picture in my mind a child playing in the playground, taking a bite of peanut butter or a handful of nuts that had never given them an issue before - and suddenly not being able to breath or vomiting nonstop and being so confused about what was happening to them. 

Another statistic that they showed that to me is incredibly startling - "since we were kids", the instance of food allergies has grown by 300%. THREE. HUNDRED. PERCENT. And it's still rising. 

Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent in our society, that people have a lot of misinformation about, that is often misunderstood, and that can literally hit anyone at any time. 15 million Americans live with food allergies - and I say "live" and not "suffer" because anyone I know with a food allergy, including my own son, is FAR from suffering - and of those about 6 million (or 2 in every classroom, on average) are children. 

Of those 6 million children with food allergies, about 1/3 have reported being bullied specifically because of their food allergy - and those are only the kids that report it. 

One-third of kids with them have been bullied because of their food allergy... and yet 25% of anaphylactic in-school reactions are people who have never before had a food allergy or exhibited symptoms. 

That is incredibly unsettling to me. 

The theories as to what cause food allergies and what has caused the recent spike in occurrences are numerous and there is no cure or consistently effective long-term treatment (outside of allergen avoidance). But - there are a couple of things that we do know about them:
  1. Food allergies are a very real medical issue - not a lifestyle choice. No one in their right mind would choose to live with a potentially fatal food allergy. We, in fact, actively prayed that God NOT give Will food allergies. 
  2. In many instances, ingestion of an allergen can cause an anaphylactic reaction which - if not immediately recognized and treated with epinephrine and emergency medical care - can be fatal.
One thing that I've learned since we got Will's diagnosis back in 2013 is that there is a LOT that people don't know or don't realize - but the vast majority of people are willing to listen, hear your story, and hear how they can help make things easier. Most people are willing to accommodate - especially once they understand that food allergies can be life-threatening. I've had moms of Will's friends text me labels of food from grocery stores and I've had people ask me questions and make sure that things were clear before putting them out for the general populous so that Will didn't feel left out. I've had one of my son's friends look at me like I was crazy for checking a label to make sure something was safe for him to eat because his mom had already checked the label - "We looked! It's safe for Will! My mom checked!" - because he wants his pal to be safe too.

By and large, people are willing to learn and understand.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be sharing with you some of the highlights of what I learned about at the FARE Food Allergy Conference - research, tips, what food allergies are, how you can help in an emergency, and more. My hope is that this information will reach many people who will find it useful, enlightening, and maybe even hopeful. Because believe it or not - there is hope, and there is DEFINITELY a lot that is good for those who are living with food allergies.

If you have any questions at any point please leave a comment or reach out to me directly if you have my contact information. Parents of those living with food allergies and those who are living with food allergies want to help people to understand and to educate and to spread the information - I am one of those parents. 

As I share information over the next 2-3 weeks, please share the posts on social media, email, print them out and hand them to someone who may find the information useful or helpful. My hope is that I can use the platforms I have to educate and inform people about food allergies and help all those in the many "villages" of the world have the knowledge they need to be able to serve those in their lives who go through the day-to-day with food allergies.

In the meantime, here are a few links that might help to provide you with some useful information:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Gotta Get Away?

I’m currently at 34,000 feet somewhere over the East Coast on my way to Orlando for the FARE Food Allergy Conference. It’s my first trip since we had the kids and I feel like it lends some credibility to the title that Steve put on the business cards he made me – “Professional Mom”.

This is a trip that I’ve been looking forward to for two months since I booked it. I did the math – we could afford it – and the timing was perfect – during Steve’s break from his graduate school classes. From the moment I clicked the button on the airfare, paid the registration fee, and booked the hotel room I’ve known it was the right thing to do. The sessions look like they have huge potential to be helpful, there’s going to be opportunity to network with other parents of kids with allergies, and with Will going into public school next year for preschool this seemed like the perfect time for me to attend.

But let’s be honest. I’m a stay-at-home mom of a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. My husband is a full-time employee and basically a full-time student. We’ve got a busy schedule and a busy life and we do our best to balance all of it, but it’s chaos. It’s loving, beautiful chaos – but it’s still chaos.

I’ve mostly been looking forward to a weekend of solitude.

Sure, there will be lots of other people there – it’s a conference. There’s even a teen track and some people bring their families with them, so it’s not like I’ll be escaping children. But when someone utters the words “Mom, I need a boogie wipe,” those words will NOT be directed at me. I will not need to change a single diaper or remind someone to point their penis down while they’re peeing (my 4-year-old, not my husband). I won’t need to decide between the endless cycle of laundry or the pile of dirty dishes or the giant smiles asking me for a story.

When I have told other moms about this conference - this two-and-a-half day stretch of flying solo - there have been looks of wonder that appear on their faces. Gasps of awe and eyes wide with wonder at the very idea of getting away without their children have been witnessed. Jokes of playing hooky on the sessions and bringing a stack of books poolside have been cracked. Dreams and hopes that maybe one day they too can get away for an entire weekend have been born.

I picture myself standing on the steps of a local indoor playground giving my own “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd of mothers of all kinds – free-range moms, attachment parenting moms, stay-at-home-moms, working moms, breastfeeding and bottle feeding moms. Moms of singles, moms of multiples, moms of sets of multiples, moms with super-involved spouses and moms with spouses who take a more hands-off approach and single moms who do it all themselves. Moms from all walks of life and manner of parenting who dream of flying high above the clouds sipping on Dr. Pepper and munching on Cheese-Nips without a child bucking a much-needed nap because they ARE FLYING ON AN AIRPLANE MOMMY AND OH MY GOODNESS THAT IS THE WING AND CLOUDS AND HELLO PERSON SITTING OVER THERE!!! LET ME WAVE TO YOU THREE ROWS BACK WHILE I STEP ON DADDY’S HEAD AND PUNCH MOMMY IN THE FACE!!!


I’ve been looking forward to the solitude.

Then today happened.

Yeah... learning... yeah... that's what I'm doing...
I had somehow managed to find a non-stop flight to the conference that didn’t take off until mid-afternoon, which meant that I could still get the kids to their preschool co-op and Steve could get a much-needed morning off. We went about the morning as we normally would, hopped in the car a few minutes early and headed home so that I could scarf down a sunbutter and jelly sandwich before heading to the airport.

As I sat there with my hands on the steering wheel, listening to the Billy Ray Cyrus version of “Real Gone” from the “Cars” movie, and driving along the same road we drive on every Friday… I got this knot in my chest. This longing, this feeling that someone was missing. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my kids. I saw Will’s goofy smile grinning at me in the mirror and I saw Evie fighting sleep and looking out the window because she knew that lunch and a nap were on the horizon.

I missed my kids and I hadn’t even left yet.

Curse that heckler in the back for holding up a poster of my kids running through bubbles in the middle of my speech.

Look – my kids are a pain just like everyone else’s. My daughter can throw a mean temper tantrum and my son has discovered that occasionally being a punk is an option. The life of a parent is exhausting, it’s draining, it’s non-stop. Whether we work in an office full-time or stay-at-home full time: you’re ALWAYS a parent first. When the alarm sounds, all things drop and you go to the child. I can’t tell you the number of times that Steve has left work to help me with the kids at the doctor’s office (and once so that *I* could go find out if I needed stitches because I cut myself cooking dinner). You’re ALWAYS on, you’re ALWAYS hyper-aware – you’re ALWAYS tired. And so the prospect of getting away from that for a full 24-hours – or more – is QUITE attractive. Because rest.

Then you think of the hugs you won’t get at random moments, the laughter you won’t hear as they run through the kitchen pretending to be race cars, the smiles you won’t see, the tears you won’t taste as they lay on your face crying over who-knows-what, and the after-nap sweaty-head you won’t smell as they snuggle trying to fully wake up. And your heart aches.

Because while getting away is so important and sometimes necessary, those aren’t the things that make what being a parent is all about. It’s those runny-nosed, silly-smiled, wide-eyed, curious, wondrous, cuddly, ridiculous tiny humans whose lives you’ve been entrusted with. That’s what parenting is all about.

So while I fully plan on enjoying every moment of this conference and full weekend of grown-up time, I’m going to make sure I can see those goofballs on FaceTime every chance I get. Without them, I wouldn’t be on this plane right now heading to a conference to better my skills as a mom of a kid with food allergies. Sunday night I’ll get home, peek in at those sweet sleeping faces, readjust their blankets and favorite animals, and gently kiss their foreheads.

Then Monday morning when the peace ends and the chaos starts again to the battle cry of “MOMMY, I NEED A BOOGIE WIPE!” – I’ll be there with my Puffs Plus Lotion weaponry in hand, ready to jump right back in again.

Because that’s the kind of soldier God created me to be in the first place.

Monday, May 9, 2016

(Un)realistic Expectations

I remember my first mother's day 4 years ago. Will was only a week old and was such a snuggly little baby. He rarely fussed and was content just to be held. Steve was a nervous first time dad and I was still recovering from my c-section - only had been home for a couple of days - so he was all about making sure I was comfortable and borderline waiting on me hand and foot. I'm fairly certain someone brought us a meal that day.

It was blissful. It was wonderful. It was right out of a Hallmark commercial. Smiles, cooing baby, bliss.

My second I don't really recall, which makes me think it was similar to most other Sundays. But my third... oh good grief my third...
The kiddos - taken May 2014, right around Mother's Day

It was my first Mothers' Day with 2 kids. Steve had asked a couple of weeks in advance what I wanted to do and I replied that I wanted to get some Top Donut - donuts and iced coffee - and take a walk by the river. I was a month off of my c-section with Evie and I wanted to move around and enjoy the outside. I didn't want to cook, I didn't want to stress - Evie had been born in the midst of a housefull of sickness and I was glad to be out of that hump.

Well... as luck would have it, Evie was entering her 6-week growth spurt, eating like crazy and as a spitty baby does - was spitting up like crazy too. We were just figuring out that Will has seasonal allergies - his Zyrtec hadn't kicked in enough to protect him, he was prone to throw up with too much post-nasal drip, and so was sneezing and vomiting everywhere. Steve was just coming off of a pretty bad cold and while he was also anxious to be outside - he was cranky from being sick for a week.

But I had my expectations of a wonderful family walk with iced coffee and donuts and a breakfast picnic on Mothers' Day. I had set this beautiful picture in my head and was determined to follow through with it. We would do it. It would be amazing. We would overcome risks and have a beautiful morning together.

The actual picture? It was... less than beautiful.

I will never forget that at the end of that day I was sitting there almost in tears. I was covered in puke and snot and poop and didn't want to think about what I wanted for dinner. Steve and I were both frustrated with how the day was turning out, concerned about a relapse into post-partum depression like I had experienced with Will, and we were disappointed with the day overall. 

All I wanted was Mothers' Day to be over. I declared it a sham, a falsehood, a day like any other day - only possibly more stressful because of unrealistic expectations that I (and the rest of the world) had constructed at the outset.

Have any of you ever had this experience of unrealistic expectations that get completely shattered? I feel like these expectations that we construct for ourselves (whether it's Mothers' Day or something else) have huge potential to add to our emotional clutter and baggage - especially during busy times of year like the spring with banquets and graduations and events and parties. They can add additional work we can't handle in our lives, they can give us a false picture of reality, and they can make us feel that if things don't go as planned they are an utter failure and the pressure of that need for success adds unnecessary stress.

Life has been crazy in our home over the last several months, and so I didn't set up expectations this year. The only thing I really wanted were donuts for breakfast, to not have to worry about dinner or subsequent clean-up, and to get 30-60 minutes to myself (if at all possible) in a Starbucks with a book and a cup of coffee. Not only did I get all of those things (even if dinner was out at a restaurant with 2 overtired toddlers - one with minimal nap, the other on the back end of a chest cold - and my in-laws), but I even got to spend 30 minutes talking to my own mother while folding 3 loads of laundry (less to start off the week with!) and space to myself to work on a crochet project until Steve came up to bed at 10.

Was it a perfect day? No. But I didn't set up any expectations. I had desires, but didn't make them needs.

So when our good friends texted me last night and said "D, how was your Mothers' Day?" - my answer was "Well... no one vomited on me. So it was pretty good."

God has given me these gifts of motherhood and marriage - and that means the good and the bad, through sickness and health, beautiful and ugly, laughter and tantrums. Motherhood is a mess and fatherhood is a mess and the jobs are nonstop, constantly demanding, and the kids don't stop being kids for a day just because of what the calendar has decided the day will be. As such - celebrating motherhood and fatherhood is inevitably going to be messy too. To expect anything different from that is just setting ourselves up for disappointment - instead, we should expect the normal chaos, the normal skinned knees, the normal sniffles, and maybe even a quarrel or two. After all, those are the things that we're celebrating anyways. 

No one vomited on me. That's a successful day of motherhood in my book.