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Food Allergy

Your Child and Food Allergy Fears

But she even became worried that the boy might react to other major allergens: from shellfish to sulfites to stinging insects. For a time, Harper was afraid of playing in the grass because of bees. She was trying to control her son’s every movement.

“On the swing, I’d say, ‘careful Harper’ or when he was going down a set of stairs ‘careful Harper,’ running around the yard ‘careful Harper. “I over-controlled regular things to make up for this monster (anaphylaxis) that I could not control.”

Talking to a psychologist helped, causing her to realize that she was over-compensating. Fraser is still vigilant about managing her 4-year-old’s allergies, but feels a greater sense of calm. Both she and Harper are sleeping better, and she speaks to him in a more relaxed fashion.

For the first time, she’s even hired a non-family member to care for her two kids while she’s at work. Her anxious parenting had caused some tension with her husband (whom she found “too carefree”). But now “we are functioning better. We have more common ground with our strategies for parenting.”

What causes high anxiety in parents, which gets passed on the kids, is the fear that a child might die from an anaphylactic reaction. Such fear can be so visceral that it puts the primal need to protect into overdrive. But just as physicians are encouraged to “heal thyself,” some parents need to learn to “calm thyself ” – and look more closely at the allergy facts, which offer some reassurance.

First, despite a doubling of the incidence of food allergies in North America in a decade, deaths from anaphylaxis are still rare. (Thanks in part to preventative measures.)

Second, Chad says allergists now have improved knowledge from fatality studies of the profile of the person at a higher risk of a life-threatening reaction – and it is not every person who tests positive to food allergies. Those with asthma, especially adolescents, fall into a higher risk category, and a previous anaphylactic reaction also increases risk.

The statistics make Chad’s point: an Ontario study published in 2001 reviewed deaths from anaphylaxis to food over the previous 14 years. There were 32 deaths, mostly among teens and young adults who also had asthma, and peanuts and tree nuts were the  allergens most often implicated. An American study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in April 2007 examined 31 food allergy deaths and found that most who succumbed were again teens or young adults,most of whom were not carrying auto-injectors and had eaten away from home.

In all the cases for which medical history was available, the person had also been asthmatic. As a prevention strategy in children who do fit the at-risk profile, Chad opts for “superb asthma control,” as well as vigilance about good allergy practice: carrying epinephrine at all times, allergen avoidance, label reading and frequent hand-washing.

“If the child does not have asthma, I even bold it on the sheet [given to parents]: ‘No asthma equals less chance of having a major reaction’. Not everybody is the same.”

Dr. Timothy Vander Leek, an Edmonton allergist, says children also need to hear that just being in the same room with an allergen won’t hurt them, and that the smell of an allergen such as peanut butter will not trigger a reaction. Vander Leek, too, sees many worried food allergic patients.

“It’s extremely common to see kids who have an unhealthy level of concern in a way that becomes a burden on their lives.”

Next Page: The Balance Between Caution and Fear

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.