Editor’s Note: Matilda Heveldt from The Odd Spot joins us today to talk about food allergies. Matilda began blogging after her 2-year-old daughter went into anaphylactic shock after coming in contact with peanuts. It was on that traumatic evening that she decided to start sharing her experiences; to raise awareness of allergies and offer support to those who may feel isolated because of their nutritional choices or restrictions.
By Matilda Heveldt, Contributing Writer
Yes, I have the “Odd” Child
Words cannot describe how much I miss peanut butter sandwiches. I love the texture, the taste, the ease of slapping one together for afternoon tea or even dinner if I was feeling particularly lazy. But the reality is this: peanuts are out for us and this includes anywhere my beautiful 2-year-old daughter could possibly come in contact with them. This includes nearly all packaged items, cafes, restaurants, and food prepared by others. These are not extreme measures, nor the actions of a dramatic, over-protective mother – this is life and death, and this is serious!
My Experience with Allergies
I thought I had allergies covered. My eldest suffers from lactose intolerance and eczema but as unpleasant and painful as these conditions can be they aren’t going to kill her. It wasn’t until a faint rash on my youngest daughters hand and chin appeared after eating a quarter of a peanut butter sandwich that I thought I might be facing a bigger problem.
Suspecting a peanut allergy I removed all traces from the house and after speaking to our doctor decided that we would keep her away from them until she was at least five hoping she would grow out of it. 12 months later, I purchased a piece of raw pistachio and goji berry slice, and within seconds of my daughter touching the slice, she was in the midst of anaphylaxis. It was the most terrifying experience of my life and I will never forget the look on her face.
After identifying her allergy and researching everything I could about peanut allergies, I felt prepared for the precautions we needed to take to manage her safety. I felt scared but confident that I could protect her. What I didn’t factor in was the lack of understanding from others, the looks and the stigma attached to food allergies.
There were remarks of “that’s what happens these days with everyone scared of germs ” or “what you eat/don’t eat during pregnancy causes allergies” or my favorite “in my day no one had food allergies, parents these days have a name for everything.” I was shocked by the rudeness of some and by the ignorance of many. I felt socially isolated because of my “odd” child but realized that it was largely a lack of knowledge in the community that had me feeling this way.
What are Food Allergies?
Firstly, food allergies are not the same as food intolerances. The media likes to group allergies and intolerances together but this is counter-productive in educating the community on the life-threatening nature of severe food allergies.
Having a food allergy means that when the body comes in contact with the allergen the immune system releases a surge of chemicals, triggering symptoms that can affect a person’s breathing, stomach, and gut, skin and/or heart and blood pressure. Severe allergies can result in Anaphylaxis that affects the whole body, with symptoms that may include the rapid spread of hives, swelling of the face, lips and eyes, vomiting, coughing, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness, and/or a sudden drop in blood pressure that can be life-threatening.
Unlike food allergies, intolerances do not involve the body’s immune system. Symptoms of food intolerance include headaches, bloating, nausea, mouth ulcers or hives.
Between 6-10% of children suffer from food allergies with around 30% of people experience an allergy at some point in their life. Allergies are a national health issue and the rising prevalence of these conditions cannot be ignored. At this stage, the causes have not been identified (although there are many theories) and the only treatment is strict avoidance of the known allergen(s). This means that to improve the safety of sufferers, community education needs to increase to minimize the risk. I have compiled a list of the top 5 things I feel non-allergy sufferers can do to help those living with food allergies.
What Others Can Do To Help
- Please don’t make judgments about a parent because their child has allergies or give your opinion as though it is scientific fact. The causes are not identified and the parents are doing their best to manage their child’s condition, they do not need to be burdened with guilt.
- My child could die if you so much as touch her with a hand that 2 hours ago touched a product containing peanuts. Please understand the risk you pose to someone’s life – just as you would view the risk of driving after drinking – your actions could kill.
- We are socially aware and accommodating of the needs of people with physical impairments – please show the same understanding for people with allergies. Clean up after your lunch at work, follow the lunchbox guidelines at your school, teach your children not to harass or bully children because they are “odd” and be aware of children/people with allergies and what foods you offer them.
- Find an allergy support website that offers free training in the awareness and management of allergies. Take it upon yourself to learn to identify the signs of an allergic reaction, respond to anaphylaxis and administer an epi-pen if required. This is an emergency scenario that if you were faced with you would want to know how to manage.
- And finally, listen to parents who talk to you about their children’s allergies. We are not being melodramatic or barking on about our ‘poor’ kids, we are trying to instill a level of awareness and knowledge in those who come in contact with our children. It is our job to help minimize the risks in their environment by educating others in their lives. Support us by listening and teaching your children the possible consequences of anaphylaxis and how to minimize the risk by sitting down to eat, not sharing food, and respecting others’ boundaries.
You have the power to help minimize the risk for allergy sufferers in your community. What steps could you take in your environment to help?