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As my son approached his first birthday, he had tried most foods and had not had an allergic reaction. With a family history of major food allergies (mine), my son had a 50 percent, or greater than average chance (8 percent in children under age 6), of having a food allergy.
At that one year mark, we went to a friend’s birthday party and my son Jackson sat next to the guest of honor, digging into some birthday cake. Within minutes, I noticed that he was having an allergic reaction that included tons of hives and coughing. We flew to our nearest drug store to get some Benadryl in his system. Thankfully, the Benadryl calmed him down and we were able to go home. We made an appointment with an allergist as soon as possible to help us determine the cause of the allergy. In the interim, he had another incident after eating two bites of pasta, which he instantly threw up. We knew then that we were dealing with a very serious allergy.
The answer to our question was a severe allergy to eggs. Jackson’s allergy was so severe that, while many doctors have removed the egg warning from flu shots, his first one caused a systemic reaction that required steroids to calm him down. Our lives were completely changed. Even though I have food allergies, and am never more than a few steps from my own Benadryl® and EpiPen®; dealing with a child’s allergies is astronomically different.
>> Read more: Food Allergies and Intolerances Decoded
I learned that the first grocery store trip after a major allergy diagnosis is enough to make you cry as you realize how many things put your loved one at risk. I learned then how to bake with egg substitutes that smelled like fabric softener, or contained chia seeds. I learned (the hard way) that we couldn’t keep eggs in our home at all as a kiss from an egg-eating family member sent him into a large-scale reaction. I learned to keep frozen egg-less cupcakes in the freezer to take along to parties and to call ahead of time to every single event that would possibly involve food to ensure that he had a safe alternative. I learned to train the family to keep his backpack of Benadryl and EpiPens with him at ALL TIMES and re-trained them annually. I learned to assume all snack duty at preschool for every social event to ensure that eggs were not a possibility for him. I learned how much harder it is to have an allergic toddler, as they do not know to keep their hands off other people’s food — and to hover over him at birthday parties holding his hands at all times.
What I learned is that being an advocate for my child’s health is worth the incessant planning and hyper-involvement in his school, activities and playdates. Because of our family’s diligence in asking about these things, and possibly coming across rude at some points, we have never had to use our son’s EpiPen and have been able to manage his minimal exposures with Benadryl alone. Our son is now old enough to ask the questions himself and is becoming his own advocate.
Additionally, he is showing signs that the allergy will eventually diminish in intensity and continues to be “challenged” in the allergy office to see his increased tolerance to exposure. We look forward to the day that he might be able to have cake at a party or eat bacon and eggs with his dad. In the interim, I am thankful that diligence, preparation and the understanding of others has kept my baby safe.
>> Read more: Food Allergies: A Mother’s Nightmare