What do you want you want most for your child?
I have no data to support this and I am totally going out on a limb, but I think that one of the most frequent answers to that question is often: “I want my child to be happy.”
Unless you are an allergy parent, then your answer is most likely: “I want my child to be safe.”
It isn’t that non-allergy parents don’t want safety for their kids. Everyone wants their children to be safe and we all take multiple steps every day to keep them that way. We buy the safest carseats, we teach our children to stay out of the street, to hold our hands in crowded places, to wear bicycle helmets. For most parents safety is a given. Of course you want your child to be safe, that goes without saying.
But for allergy parents it’s different. We think about safety all the time. We say the word “safe” multiple times a day. Food isn’t just “yummy” or “yucky,” it’s “safe” or “not safe.” We are always on alert because to us it feels like our children are rarely truly safe. They are always at risk for having a severe, perhaps life-threatening allergic reaction. I’m not just talking about FPIES reactions, which can be extremely scary and can land your child in the hospital. Instead, let’s go worst-case scenario and think about a parent whose child has an IgE allergy. The kind where peanut dust can cause an anaphylactic reaction that includes the child’s skin breaking out in huge, red, itchy hives, and their throat closing, preventing them from breathing. This child may die if they aren’t administered epinephrine within seconds. All this from peanut DUST! These parents don’t ever take their child’s safety for granted. And the worst part is, it’s not something they can control. These parents rely on you – the rest of the world – to help keep their children safe.
Food allergies affect 15 million Americans, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), this is the same number of people who watch Dancing with the Stars, or who work the night shift, or who practice yoga. That is a lot of people. One in 13 children has a food allergy. You probably know 13 children, imagine one with a severe allergy. Food allergies are real and they are serious – every three minutes someone goes to the ER with a food allergy reaction. That means that in the time it takes you to read this blog post, someone in the US has had an allergic reaction so severe that they had to go to the hospital. Because of A FOOD.
And it’s not just peanuts. Peanuts get a bad reputation because they tend to cause really severe reactions and children are less likely to outgrow peanut allergies. But a person can be severely allergic to any food. The most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. But a person can have a severe reaction to a fruit or a vegetable or anything. Any food can be a poison to a person with food allergies. And food is everywhere!
This food allergy awareness week, I ask that you become more aware of food. Look around you. When you are at home, how much of your time is spent related to food – planning meals, cooking, eating, snacking, cleaning up? When you are out and about notice where the food is – a person drinking a latte passing you on the street, a toddler eating a snack in the stroller while mom goes for a walk, a family picnicking at the playground, a rushed businessman who is shoving the last of his lunch into his mouth and brushing the crumbs off of his hands as he runs into a meeting.
Take some time this week to become aware of where food is. Food allergy parents are always aware. The moment they enter a new place they can tell you what every person around them is eating and have completed several calculations to determine the likelihood that their child will come in contact with it, the danger of that contact, and what they would need to do to prevent the contact. While you are checking playground equipment to make sure some crazy person didn’t hide razor blades on the monkey bars, they are checking the ground for nut shells, or chocolate wrappers, or kids wandering aimlessly around snacking from a tub of Cheerios. These parents view the world in a way that is so different from you that you can’t even imagine. I know these things never would have occurred to me before I was thrown into this world.
Once you become more aware, try to do just one thing to help out those with allergies. Wash your hands after you eat. Think twice before you pacify your child with a snack in a public place. Throw away your food trash. It sounds dramatic, but these small steps really could save someone’s life. Even though you may not think you know anyone with food allergies, your actions can have a huge impact on someone with allergies. At a minimum they will lessen the stress of the parents who work so hard to keep their children safe…and happy.