I have tried to write a post about living with food allergies for years, but every time I try, I just get stuck. It’s a strange thing, for it’s what our family knows well! And as a Mum to children with allergies including a child with multiple life threatening food allergies, you would think that I would find this post easy to write. But it’s not!!
I guess there are a few reasons why…for one, I know that every family has struggles of their own and I don’t ever want to compare our families struggles with others. I also don’t want to sound negative about it all. Especially for those who have just found out their child is anaphylactic to something. I want to encourage and support those who are living with similar struggles, as well as educating others about the difficulties for families who have serious allergies. A final reason why I find it hard to write about, is that it just brings up sooo many emotions!!!
Life with food allergies is challenging! Always thinking about every ingredient that is in the food our children are eating and making sure that the food is not contaminated with a life threatening food allergen is just plain stressful! I know I shouldn’t complain – there are many serious diseases that families and parents are challenged with! But I guess the difference with food and environmental allergies is that unless you know, you wouldn’t know.
You wouldn’t know that the person could stop breathing from breathing in milk or egg powder. You wouldn’t know that the sauce or seasoning that says ‘may contain traces of dairy or egg or peanuts’ could make that child’s face swell and their airways close within minutes. You wouldn’t know that the unwashed chopping board or knife that was used to cut the cheese, could cause vomiting and hives all over. For most people, life threatening food allergies are invisible. And I guess that’s what makes it even scarier!
I’ve heard many people say, ‘it will get easier as they get older and they can manage their own food and their own body.’
I have heard it time and time again, ‘the good thing is that most kids outgrow their allergies, so it won’t be forever.’
That may be true for some…but it certainly is not true for all kids.
Did you know?
– “Food allergies affect 2% of Australian adults but are estimated to affect around 6-8% of children.”
– “1 in 10 babies aged 12 months now have food allergy in Australia.”
– “There is currently no cure for food allergy and avoidance of the food is critical.” https://allergyfacts.org.au/allergy-anaphylaxis/food-allergy/5-things-you-should-know-about-food-allergy (Content updated August 2016).
So with those stats in mind, food allergies are something to be taken seriously! The emotions that well up inside of me as I am reminded of our own child’s need for the epipen multiple times in his 10 years of life brings tears to my eyes. The experiences while horrifying at the time, make us appreciate life all the more!
As parents, we do the best we can for our families with the knowledge, resources and support we have at the time! I am truly thankful for the love and care our family has been show over the years. It is with this in mind, that I want to share a few thoughts.
To those of you wanting to care and show love to those you know with food allergies:
– Please don’t feel offended if a family with allergies would like to bring their own food or cook for you instead. It’s not that they don’t trust that you will take good care when cooking, but the stress levels associated with eating out or at someone else’s house can be extremely high. Particularly when the trace of an ingredient is a life or death matter (sometimes this is just exhausting)!
– In saying that, families and people living with allergies greatly appreciate when someone asks what they ‘can’ eat, as opposed to what they ‘can’t’ eat. For some, the list of what they can’t eat (or have eliminated) is just too great! So asking for a list of foods that they ‘can’ eat is a caring thing to do! When friends ask us what snacks they can bring to share when visiting our home, we like to suggest uncut fruit and vegetables (which we can cut on our own chopping board) or something off the list of products that we know are safe for our family (which we can email them).
– Our home is our children’s safe haven. So we make it a priority to not have particular food allergens in our home. We understand when going out or into someone else’s home, we take a risk that there may be allergens that are dangerous. But we have always tried to keep our home as a safe place for our kids.
– If you are inviting a child with allergies to a birthday party, be aware that that child may not be in a place to want to go to birthdays parties. From personal experience, birthday parties for children with life threatening allergies can be isolating and scary (and rightly so). But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate your invitation or your attempt at providing allergy friendly foods and games/prizes. We have found it super helpful when friends tell us what food they will be providing at the party (and if it’s not a suitable allergy-friendly food, we always try to bring something similar that is). For instance, if it’s a sausage sizzle, we bring our own cooked sausages (the stress of wondering if egg, cheese or satay chicken was last cooked on the BBQ can sometimes be too much). If there is going to be a chocolate cake, then we will make sure to bring a homemade dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, gluten-free, preservative-free, chocolate cake for our kids. If there is going to be ice-cream, we bring some frozen Smoozes (dairy free ice-cream) and if there is popcorn or jelly, we just make our own and bring it.
– If you are inviting a child with allergies to a party and you have food that contains the allergens, it’s a great idea to put the ‘safe’ food away from the ‘unsafe’ food. Either at the other end of the table, or on a separate table completely. Allow the child with the allergies to get their food first (before the other kids have touched the chocolate, cream cake and biscuits and then touched the chips and fruit and contaminated them).
I encourage everyone reading this post to enjoy your food and celebrations, but to also help keep those with food allergies safe by considering them and their needs. It’s the little things that we can do to help each other that make a huge difference!
We are so thankful for having such supportive family and friends! May every child, teenager and adult with food allergies feel safe when it comes to eating and nourishing their body. xx