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September 25, 2005

Be careful of language when describing your child's food allergy

Well, there it is again... an article describing schools and keeping a child with a food allergy safe. In this case a peanut allergic child who attends Jr High school.

Birthday parties? Never, says Carolyn. 'People are terrified to have him in the house in case something happens.'

Really? Her son doesn't get invited to birthday parties because of the other parents' fear that something might happen? I know this mom loves her son, that is clear in the article, however, once again, be careful of how you educate other regarding your child's food allergy.

But wait... there's more. Another mom (regarding peanut free schools) compares the volatility of her 12-year-old son's deadly peanut and tree-nut allergy to “putting a loaded gun on the table. This kid could die from a nut. If someone put a gun on the table and there was potentially deadly situation, everybody would scream, ‘Oh, my God!' But that doesn't happen with nuts.”

Ok, relax... a loaded gun on the table could kill anyone of the children sitting round that table (and anyone else in the school for that matter). I'm sorry but this is a terrible way to communicate the issue. Think about one of the other parents learning about the seriousness of the peanut allergy for the first time, is this really how you want to communicate the issue?

Two of our kids (out of 4) have life threatening food allergies (peanut and others), so I know this is serious stuff. I believe with greater care in the communication of the problem and the suggestion of effective and reasonable solutions, the child can participate in all the typical activities and be accepted by their peers (and the other parents).

Posted by David at 4:37 PM

September 17, 2005

Camping with Child Food Allergies

I've been asked about how I handle camping with kids with food allergies, so here's some thoughts and a little advice. When we first started camping, it was a pretty scary thought process. It's one thing if you are camping with just your family but what if many families will be there? When you think about all the different foods that have been cooked on the grill before yours, there is a real risk. Add to that the fact that parents and kids are running around with all kinds of snacks (especially the perennial favorite - trail mix) and it can make you re-think even going on the trip.

Now, we camp about 6-8 times a year. We go with a large group of dads and kids for about 2-3 days. My kids have different allergies but the biggest worry is a peanut allergy - so, my comments focus on that particular allergen. You will, of course, adjust as necessary.

So, here some tips for camping with child food allergies:

1) Plan your meals in advance. If you are not already doing this in your day-to-day lives, you are missing out on a good food allergy management technique.

2) Pack "back-up" meals and snacks. You may not need them but it is better to bring them back home then not have them in a pinch.

3) Bring tin foil. This way your child's food can be cooked on the same grill (unless little Billy likes raw meat) as all the other meals without concern of cross-contamination.

4) Plan on bringing an extra cooler (one more than everyone else) for the extra snacks and meals. In our case, two of our kids have food allergies so that extra cooler is not a small one.

5) Ask your friends to not bring peanut butter, peanuts, trail mix, etc. Count on someone forgetting and breaking out the trail mix round the camp fire. A gentle reminder usually results in it being put away to avoid an accident.

6) Understand the activities planned for the weekend. Is there an activity that involves food? Races where peanuts are pushed with your nose? The raw egg toss? If there is something planned that is dangerous for your child, suggest a non-food related replacement activity. "How bout we do a water baloon toss instead?"

7) Think about where you will keep the Epi-Pens. We often camp in the mountains and desert here in Southern California, so temps can vary drastically (freezing to scortching hot). How will you make sure the epinephrine is kept at a safe temp. Sometimes hanging in the tent or kept on your person just doesn't work. (Hint: small insulated coolers are a great solution)

So, there you have it, some tips to make camping a little safer for you and your child with a food allergy. Any other suggestions? Go ahead and comment. Now, go pitch that tent and have a blast with your kids!

Posted by David at 12:36 PM

September 12, 2005

Gone too far? Banning nuts from Middle School.

I read an child food allergy article from the Kentucky Lexingon-Herald about a local middle school banning PBJ, peanut snacks, and nuts of any kind. Is this going too far to protect your child with a severe food allergy?

The principal was quoted as saying, "He can't live in a bubble, so we change the environment." Seems to me what they’ve done is expanded his bubble.

The article described how the school keeps EpiPens on hand and that the student with a peanut allergy carries his own EpiPen. It also makes mention of other special need students with diabeties and bee stings allergies. So, should sugar be banned and bee netting be put up around the school as well? Sound silly? Yes, I think so too.

It went on to say that the principal’s office “hasn't fielded calls from parents angry about food limitations” and that "The children were very good about making sure nothing in this environment would put him at risk." My fear would be by the time kids are in Middle School or Jr High, they are telling their parents less about the details of their day. Plus, bullies get bigger and meaner as they get older. This is the danger in my mind. What about after school? What about at the baseball game? Will the student look out for himself or will mom or dad be there every minute of every day outside the classroom?

Look, I have a few years before my oldest starts Jr. High. I don’t have all the answers, however, I do believe that we need to let our food allergy kids become independent. We spent so much of our time and thought on keeping them safe when they couldn’t keep themselves safe in the early years. At some point, they need to spread their wings. In my mind that means, good communication with the school administrators, teachers, friends and parents. And most importantly, a child with the confidence and communication skills (and an EpiPen on their hip) to keep themselves safe.

Posted by David at 8:05 AM

September 8, 2005

Fighting Food Allergies

I recently read this article on food allergies and thought the title was interesting, "Fighting Food Allergies". Made me want to pick up my sword and shield. Ahhhh!

The incidence of food allergies has grown exponentially in the past 30 years, and experts don't really know why.... What they fear is that while the number of people with food allergies continues to grow, so do the sources of places to get allergens - foods that will cause a reaction.

Less than the fighting connotation, it worries me that food allergies are growing "exponentially" and we don't know why. Genetic enginering of foods? More pre-prepared foods? A general breaking down of our immune systems? We've heard lots of possibilities and no real known cause in sight.

The article goes on to talk about prepared foods, hidden allergens, natural flavors and natural colors. We've been reading labels very closely now for about 8 years. We've seen a marked improvement in the labeling and have definitely developed an affinity for certain brands that we trust. We know mistakes can happen and as long as the manufacture contacts FAAN and gets the info out there ASAP, we're okay with that. The awareness is so much better than it was even just 8 years ago. Maybe information sources like this can make it that much better in another 8 years.

We hope so, that's why were doing this.

Posted by David at 8:23 PM

September 6, 2005

Social Time with Child Food Allergies

Should I be worried about my child's food allergies because this Friday is the annual Ice Cream Social at our elementary school? As I thought about this year's event, I realized that my feelings were very different from years past. Let me explain...

For those of us with children who have food allergies, few places strike more fear than the ice cream shop. Thinking about all the toppings - nuts, M&M's, toffee and the likes - and the possiblity of cross contamination can make a parent shutter. We simply have never done the ice cream shop with our kids... its "off limits for people with food allergies" is our policy.

So, image our concern when our first kindergartner received a flyer announcing the event of the year, the Ice Cream Social. Believe me, this is a big deal to kids and parents alike. (There was a time in my life when an Ice Cream Social couldn't have been less important... ah, parenthood!) Anyway, our daughter wanted to go and be part of the excitement and who were we to put the "pooh-pooh" on the fun? Oh no, we were going in loaded for bear (so to speak).

Now, after a few years of these events (and other fun events like them), we simply shift into self-resource mode. We pack our cooler with ice and ice cream cups, fudge-cicles (spelling?) and other tasty frozen treats. We don't make a big deal about packing our own and now our kids simply know that is the routine. We find often that our kids are viewed as "lucky" because they get the special treat (because they, unlike their friends, get to pick exactly what they want to eat that night.) Membership has its privledges.

So, if you are a new-to-school with food allergies parent, relax. It does get better and, in fact, you will no longer sweat the small stuff. You will learn to be prepared and it feels great.

Posted by David at 7:51 PM