When my daughter was 2, she had a reaction to peanut butter that put her in the hospital for a night. Since that night 7 years ago, our life has changed a lot. So your child has just been diagnosed with a food allergy – now what?
Find a good allergist.
If your child hasn’t gone through allergy testing, they should be tested. We found a good pediatric allergist, and the first visit consisted of a scratch test and blood work. Children who have peanut allergies are often allergic to other nuts, so they tested for all tree nuts as well. My daughter tested negative to tree nuts and her blood work indicated that she is among the more likely to outgrow her peanut allergy, so it was nice to have have a thorough test done. Allergy testing is done yearly to see if there have been any changes, and our allergist prescribes the Epi-pen Jr (not our pediatrician). Our allergist also provides paperwork to our school to authorize them to keep Epi-pens on hand.
Stock up on medication and keep medicines on hand.
You want to make sure that you have plenty of medications on hand in case of a reaction. This might be Benadryl, the Epi-pen, Auvi-Q, inhalers, etc. We always have two Epi-pens on us, as well as Benadryl. I keep these in my purse in a case of emergency, and we also keep some at home. Keep in mind that things like the Epi-pen and other medications may need to be kept at a certain temperature, so remember not to leave it in a glove compartment. You want to have these convenient for you and any other caregiver in your home.
Find a good storage case, labels, bracelets, etc.
I used to carry our Epi-pen and Benadryl in a pouch in my bag, which was messy – then I found Allermates. They make great insulated cases for carrying a variety of allergy medications. I have a case that carries two Epi-pens and single-dose Benadryl packets. I also keep our pediatrician’s and allergist’s business cards and a copy of my insurance information in the carry case. If there was an emergency, the last thing I want to deal with is digging around for that information.
You may also want to look into medical bracelets and things like labels. You can label your child’s food, lunch box, backpack, etc. as needed. Bracelets are great for so many things, like summer camp, school, and more. Two that I have used are Allermates.com (lots of great allergy products from lunchboxes to carry cases to stickers), and HopePaige.com (every kind of medical bracelet you can imagine, from ones that can be used in sports to ones that look like Pandora bracelets).
Be a label reader.
Go through all the foods in your house, and get rid of anything that contains the allergen or is processed with the allergen. Always read labels. I have found popcorn that was processed with nuts, and alternative nut-butters that are processed with peanuts. Even if you think it is safe – read the label again. Lots of companies are starting to be better about labeling their products, which is nice to see. For example, Junior Mints are clearly labeled as “Peanut Free”, which I highly appreciate. Never assume something is safe.
Find lists of foods that are allergy-free and allergen-free food companies.
If your child is in school, chances are there are other kids with allergies. For our nut-free classrooms, the teachers have handed out lists of suggested items, but you can find lots of resources online. You will learn over time which foods are safe. You can also find some companies that cater to those with food allergies. Some of our favorites are Enjoy Life Foods (free of the top 8 allergens: Gluten Free, Wheat Free, Dairy Free, Peanut Free, Tree Nut Free, Egg Free, Soy Free, Fish Free, Shellfish Free) and the Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates Company.
Check out allergy resources.
There are so many resources out there, whether it is local support groups to websites. Always make sure you use a good source of information, but I have even used food allergy websites to print out information sheets to include with my daughter’s Epi-pen kit at preschool (such as a list of anaphylactic vs. non-anaphylactic symptoms and more).
Educate those around you.
You may think something is obvious, but especially with food allergies on a somewhat sudden rise in the past decade, not everyone is familiar with food allergies. If someone is going to care for your child (babysitter, grandparent, etc), be clear about your expectations. Make sure they are trained on how to use the Epi-pen. Print out information on allergic reactions that show when to treat a reaction with Benadryl, versus an anaphylactic reaction. If your house is completely allergen-free, explain that. If your child is outside of your home, make sure you have clear rules in place. Is it ok for them to sit next to someone eating a peanut butter sandwich? You would be surprised what people may not perceive as dangerous. Also things like peanut proteins can stay in your saliva for many hours, so that may be another precaution you need to take. A family member could eat a peanut product and transfer that to your child, such as sharing utensils or a kiss on the lips, so be aware of possible sources of spreading allergens.
Check school/daycare/childcare policies.
Check to see what your child’s school policies are, and any other facility that attends to your child. You want to make sure that your child’s classroom is allergen-free. My daughter’s preschool classroom is nut-free, and I see that most of our elementary school classrooms are nut-free. I even see that that there is a cantaloupe-free classroom. You want to be sure that your children’s caregivers know your expectations and that they are prepared to handle a reaction. This can be anything from classroom rules to cafeteria rules, if there is a medication lock box, and so on.
Be prepared for parties and special occasions.
We have found that most birthday parties are not peanut-safe, such as the birthday cake. Halloween is filled with all kinds peanut candy, with an abundance of Reeses, Snickers bars, and more. Be prepared for these situations – this may involve bringing your child’s own allergy-free cupcake to a birthday party and making sure they know not to even touch Halloween candy before you have gone through it.
Routinely practice and check expiration dates.
Regularly check the expiration dates on medications, and keep track of ones that are kept outside the home (such as a school lock box or grandparent’s house). Our Epi-pens come with a practice pen, and as simple as it is to use it, it is important to be prepared for an emergency.
I have learned a lot in the past 2.5 years, and I hope these tips help you. Please feel free to leave any other suggestions!
* Note: links in this article are not sponsored. These are products and companies that we use regularly in our household and would personally recommend.