Hello all. Today’s post is about something that we found out about our son that can have a major impact on his life. Turns out Henry has a pretty strong allergy to nuts, particularly peanuts.
When I first found out I was pretty freaked out by the news. I mean, I didn’t know much about this type of allergy other than it can be fatal. I’ll be honest….it scared the crap out of me!!
My wife decided to have him tested after he came up in quite a severe rash and swelling around his mouth and eyes while trying out new foods. The doctor ran a comprehensive allergy test panel on him and it turns out he’s very allergic to peanuts, and also has allergies to a few other things as well.
So basically this sucks. My poor little man is never going to get to enjoy Peanut Butter. Or Snickers. Or chicken satay. I mean, I guess in the grand scheme of things these aren't that important, but still!!
There are some big changes that we have had to make, primarily cleaning out all our kitchen cupboards of all things nut related and making our flat into a ‘Nut-free Zone’, which I guess means my mum isn’t allowed to visit anymore either…. ;)
We also have to make sure we always carry an Epinephrine Injector pen around with us now every where we go. It’s a pain to have to remember it all the time, and I don’t like that my son is going to have to remember to have it with him at all times as he grows up, but I guess it’s something we’ll just get used to, and it’ll become a habit soon enough.
Now, as I said, when I first heard the news I was a bit freaked. Mostly, this was because I didn’t know much about nut allergies.
So, as is my way, when I don’t know about something, I go find out about it, and then I’m not freaked out anymore. I figured there might be other parents out there in the same boat I was a few weeks ago, so I wrote down what I learned and put it all in this handy dandy blog post for you guys to read.
I hope you find this informative…
So what is a nut allergy anyway?
So to begin with, a peanut/nut allergy is defined as a reaction to peanuts by a child’s immune system. Normally, our body’s immune system responds to viruses or bacteria that attack the body. However, a food allergy occurs when the body mistakenly believes that a harmless substance (such as the proteins contained in peanuts) is harmful. As a result, the immune system creates antibodies to that particular food in order to protect the body. Therefore, the next time that a child eats that food, in this case peanuts, the body releases chemicals to protect the body called histamines. This is what is responsible for causing the warning symptoms.
Something that is unknown to many parents, myself included, is that peanuts belong to a group of 8 foods that are mostly responsible for food allergies in children. The others include soy, milk, tree nuts (cashews and walnuts), shellfish, wheat, and fish. But the good news is that many children eventually grow out of food allergies to soy, milk, or eggs. Unfortunately this is not often the case with tree nut or peanut allergies. This, perhaps, explains why most health care providers insist on not feeding children food containing tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish until they are about two years and in cases where there is a family history of allergies, until three years.
What are the symptoms of a nut allergy?
If you think that your child may be allergic to peanuts, then it is HIGHLY advisable to get a diagnosis from your allergist or health care provider as soon as possible as the symptoms may be severe.
These may include:
· Nausea, diarrhoea, itching around the mouth, stomach pain, vomiting
· Wheezing, runny nose, or troubled breathing
· Skin reactions e.g. hives, swelling, eczema, or itching
· Rapid heartbeat.
But with peanut allergies, a child is more likely to suffer from an allergic reaction referred to as anaphylactic shock (If this sounds scary, thats because it is!!). This is an acute reaction that is severe, sudden, and usually involves the whole body and can result in the swelling of the throat and mouth, dangerously low blood pressure levels, and breathing problems. This kind of reaction is considered a medical emergency and is treated with epinephrine (given by injection). Normally, caregivers and parents of children who suffer from severe peanut allergies will carry their own shot kits in the event of an emergency. Ours is in the form of an Injector Pen, like this:
These types of injectors are very common these days. It is very easy to use, especially in an emergency when most parents would be panicking and probably fumbling around with the medication - hey, its a perfectly normal reaction to have when your baby is in distress. We were also given a practice Injector Pen that does not contain a needle or any epinephrine. I highly recommend you get one of these and practice with it a lot. This is the kind of thing you want to have ingrained in your muscle memory, wouldn’t you agree?
Allergic reactions to peanuts usually start to occur within minutes of ingesting nuts but may be delayed for up to 4 hours, and usually last less than a day. The more severe the allergy is, the smaller the food amount it takes to cause it.
What about other types of nuts?
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans grow on trees while peanuts grow underground and are not classified as tree nuts. Statistics show that about half of those who suffer from peanut allergies are also allergic to tree nuts. So it’s a good idea to ask your health care provider whether it is safe for your little ones to eat tree nuts. It turned out that in our case, Henry is also allergic to Almonds and Cashews as well as Peanuts, but he’s ok with Hazlenuts. (so Nutella is still ok, WOOHOO!!!)
How it affects your child's diet
Needless to say, the only way to prevent allergic reactions is to completely avoid what brings them about in the first place- in this case peanuts and any other food that has them as an ingredient. For instance, if your wife is breast-feeding, she should try and eliminate any foods from her diet that your child may be allergic to as food allergens may be absorbed from her diet and end up in her breast milk. In addition, many restaurant foods and processed foods contain peanuts or related products so you are going to have to be prepared to change the way you shop, order, and prepare foods.
And the first way to go about this is by becoming familiar with ingredients containing peanut products and also learning to read food labels. Also, if you’re unsure of any ingredients, always ask. Below, I take a look at some of the ingredients you should be on the look out for in food products:
· Mixed nuts
· Peanut butter
· Satay (a peanut sauce)
· Arachis (an alternative name for peanuts)
· Artificial nuts (those that have been re-flavoured or de-flavoured)
· Unrefined peanut oil also variously referred to as unprocessed, cold-pressed, extruded, or expelled oils.
When trying to avoid peanut proteins, cross contamination can be one of the problems faced by most parents since it is common during preparation and processing of food for peanuts to come into contact with other foods even when they do not constitute the ingredients. Some of the foods that could be contaminated with peanuts include:
· Candies, chocolate, and ice cream
· Sauces such as Worcestershire and barbecue
· Baking mixes
· Cookies, cakes, and pastries which do not have a list of ingredients
· Salads and salad dressings
· Emulsified ingredients and hydrolysed vegetable proteins etc.
If you happen to be out dining with your children, ensure that you:
· Opt for simple dishes with fewer recipe ingredients and generally avoid sauces
· Tell your waiter/waitress of your child’s allergy
· Ask whether food processors, pans, cutting boards, knives or any other food preparation equipment is also used for nuts.
Lastly, while food labels have become much easier to read, always:
Read the label every time you purchase even a known product as the manufacturer may have altered the ingredients. Be on the lookout for the words ‘may contain’ as this may imply that they may have been made in a factory that also makes nuts. Be aware that words such as ‘peanut free’ do not mean that the food is completely free of allergens. Therefore, you need to read the label again to ensure that the food is free from ingredients derived from allergens.
Providing your child with a diet that still tastes good
Children can still have a complete diet even in the absence of peanuts which are an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, magnesium, vitamin E, fibre, and folate. This is because there are lots of other food classes that contain the same ingredients as peanuts. The challenge lies not in providing adequate nutrition, but in keeping your child from accidentally eating foods that they are allergic to.
There are studies happening at the moment which show that treating peanut allergies with shots or drops containing some portion of the allergen ,referred to as desensitisation or immunotherapy, may allow children with nut allergies to continue eating them or have a decreased reaction to them.
There are also clinical studies underway at the moment involving the use of a patch containing a peanut protein that your child wears on the skin which is hoped will help reduce the severity of peanut allergies over time. And while the process may take several years, recent studies continue to show that it is increasingly successful in treating peanut allergies.
So there you have it, I hope you find this information useful. There are a number of good books on the subject on Amazon too, as well as other products, such as:
I've also found the following useful links to websites on the subject, and I'll update this list as I find more:
This can be a very difficult thing to deal with. I’ll admit that I get depressed when I think about the future, and how Henry is not going to be able to eat all the same things as his friends at birthday parties and BBQ’s, and how he is ALWAYS going to have to remember to carry his Epi-pen with him. But on the plus side, the studies into curing and preventing nut allergies are progressing, and hopefully in the future our kids won’t have to worry about this problem at all.
If there are other parents reading this in the same situation, or other parents who have also had to deal with this and have any stories to tell or tips and advice for the rest of us, please feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
My name is Ryan, and this is my blog.
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