You may not know this about me, but my youngest son has a food allergy to tree nuts. Overall, his allergy is well controlled through avoidance of cashews, almonds and other tree nuts. He is able to eat peanuts, and even eats some foods “processed with…” tree nuts. He has navigated foods quite well, and now at the age of almost twelve, he is confident around food and wants to try tree nuts.
This week he ate five or six smoked almonds. With an Epi Pen at the ready, he ate them, thought they were delicious, and nothing happened. No hives. No difficulty breathing. No stomach cramps. No vomiting. No diarrhea.
These have been his typical symptoms. Thankfully, we have never had to use his Epi Pen. In fact, he hasn’t had an allergic reaction since he was in Kindergarten, but that one was pretty brutal and his worst ever. No Epi Pen needed, but he required a five-day course of steroids, as his hives were so bad.
When you go years without any allergic reaction, in our case six, you tend to get comfortable. Even lackadaisical. You begin to think that maybe your son has outgrown his food allergy. Maybe you forget the Benadryl or Epi Pen when you head out of the house. Six years of nothing can lead to some level of complacency.
With the excitement of Halloween and upcoming parties, last night my son made a Halloween cake for his school class, carved a pumpkin and roasted pumpkin seeds. An independent effort on his part I was delighted to support. What dietitian mom doesn’t want to see their child baking in the kitchen, successfully handling a knife, and yes, a drill, and then multi-purposing pumpkin seeds by roasting them? Heck, what non-dietitian mom doesn’t want to see that?!
Surprisingly, this morning my son woke up with an upset stomach, slight headache, and a tight chest. He had an episode in the bathroom (I think you can guess what I mean). When he came downstairs, I realized his face was covered in hives.
Damn you, food allergy.
You have cruel timing. Halloween. What an unfair time to show up!
And, you took us by surprise.
You’re making my son stay home from school, so we can “wait this out,” and making his face so itchy the prospect of using make-up or a costume mask is unappealing. And, you’ve taken his, and my, food allergy confidence down a notch.
You’re the Grinch who stole Halloween. Kinda like the lady who is handing out “overweight letters” instead of candy to her trick-or-treaters.
My best guess is my son is having a reaction to pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, but the truth is, I don’t know for sure. Maybe it was immune system overload with the trial of almonds earlier in the week, more candy (and cross-contamination) than usual, or a first time experience with independent pumpkin carving. Maybe it was one thing, or maybe it was all three.
I will never really know for sure.
But I do know this.
Food allergy can raise its ugly head, anytime, anywhere. There is no room for complacency, a comfort zone, or a lax attitude about food allergies. I know this professionally.
But personally, life gets crazy, we get distracted, and the reality is kids will be adventurous and may want to test their limits with food. While I feel frustrated and disappointed for my son, I know this is a wake up call telling me he is not out of the woods with his food allergy. He has not out-grown it. And he may never (given his type, tree nuts, it is unlikely he will outgrow it).
It’s a wake up call for him too. He’s scared the reaction will get worse, and disappointed that we have to wait this out before going back to school. He’s mostly upset that he is missing his class party, for which he made the Halloween cake. He’s reminded that he also needs to be more careful and that we may not know everything about his food allergy.
Damn you, food allergy. I don’t like your timing. Showing up on Halloween day is cruel and unnecessary. And, I don’t like that you have thrown a new food onto my son’s list of “Foods to Avoid.”
But I also bless you. Bless you for the reminder that our family must pay more attention to food allergens, be prepared with medication every time we leave the house, and empower our son to feel safe in the world around him.
Have you ever been thrown a curve ball by your child’s food allergy?