My kid is 'that allergic kid' at school, and I'm not sorry
IF YOU'RE a parent of a child who can "eat everything" I am happy for you, but take heed, I used to be one of you, now I'm the mum of the "allergic kid".
My kid is the reason your kid can't have Nutella in their lunchbox, but for the first five years of my parenting journey my child had no known allergies.
One single biscuit at a party containing a macadamia nut she had eaten the likes of several times before and 10 minutes later we were in the hospital.
That's the scary thing about severe allergies.
They can come on without warning, and after cumulative exposure to the allergen - which means one day you can eat it and the next you're covered in hives, your throat is constricted and you're in the back of an ambulance.
And so, my unwanted career as an allergy mum began.
I understand it's annoying
I've been on both sides, so I get that it feels impossible for parents of non-allergic kids to keep up with the restrictions imposed upon allergic kids.
Some kids are allergic to nuts, others to dairy, milk, soy, seafood - the list goes on.
How can you protect them all?
You can do your research, read the notices your school sends out about children with allergies and take it personally, as if it was your own child, because one day it very well might be.
It happened to me.
Your child's lunchbox matters, too
I've been stopped at the school gates by parents who tell me how annoying it is to remember not to pack a peanut butter sandwich because my kid is "that allergic kid".
Why should my child's allergy prevent their child from eating their favourite food to help fuel them through the school day?
Because your child's lunchbox contents could cause serious life-threatening complications in other children - do you really want to be that person?
I've heard it all in terms of what I must have done wrong to cause my child's severe peanut and tree nut allergy.
It's not 'because' of anything
It was because of the formula she was fed - she never had a drop.
It was the antibacterial surface spray I use - I don't use any.
She didn't play enough in the dirt - she did.
She wasn't exposed to pets - we've always had a dog.
If there was something I could have done to prevent my child's severe allergy, trust me, I would have done it 1000 times over, but there wasn't, and I couldn't, so here we are.
Mums like me need your help
There is so much other parents can do to help keep all kids with severe food allergies safe.
Schools are moving away from classifying themselves as "nut free", which creates intense anxiety in many allergy parents, but Dr Lara Ford, a staff specialist at the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Westmead Children's Hospital, said the "nut-free" label could actually cause damaging complacency.
What we really need is education among all parents.
"ASCIA and Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia have never supported schools calling themselves "nut free" as this can lead to a false sense of security that there are no nuts at school," Dr Ford said.
"Schools frequently request that carers not send nuts, especially in the early primary years, and there are many other useful risk management strategies that schools can implement to decrease risk to food allergic students."
If you've been notified about a child in your child's school or class with a severe allergy and you know it's not safe to send that item to school - stop sending it.
Students with confirmed allergies will have an allergy action plan and warning notice that is visible to all parents in common areas of the school.
Usually, the information is circulated to all staff and parents who have contact with the child and every parent should be on the lookout for that information.
Five top tips for all parents
Dr Ford has five top tips for EVERY parent to help keep allergic kids safe. They are:
- Send non-food treats to school for celebrations such as birthdays, or low risk foods such as water-based ice blocks or lollipops;
- Talk to your child about not sharing food with their schoolmates;
- Teach your child to wash their hands after eating and before playing or returning to the classroom to prevent cross contamination of allergens for their friends with food allergies;
- If you're hesitating about inviting an allergic child over, don't avoid the playdate - ask their parents to send food along instead;
- Educate yourself on allergies, how to follow an ASCIA action plan and how to given an EpiPen- ASCIA offers free e-training in allergy and anaphylaxis for community members.
And don't think it won't happen to you.
Serious allergies can occur at any time in life and while new allergies are likely to develop with foods a person eats irregularly, it's not always that cut and dried.
"It can happen," Dr Ford said.
"There are no particular features that distinguish first-time reactions from reactions in children known to have allergies,"
"If a student has anaphylaxis for the first time at school many schools have General Use Adrenaline Autoinjectors (EpiPens) that can be used."
Five top tips for parents of 'allergy kids'
And what about the top five tips for parents with already-confirmed allergic kids?
Dr Ford has them at hand too.
- Always provide the school an EpiPen and ASCIA action plan to be kept in a central location where everyone knows where it is;
- Talk to your child about only eating food that you have packed them, don't share food;
- Have good communication with the school, including helping the executive at school prepare and then update an individual health care plan each year - including risk management strategies that are sustainable and reasonable;
- When there is a special day at school, have some safe treats available so your child can be part of the day, and not feel left out;
- Follow up with your allergy specialist at a minimum before your child starts school before they go to high school and before they leave school. Always follow up if you think anything is changing with your child's allergies.
And to those of you who are pedantic about lunchbox contents and value the safety of my child as you would your own, thank you, it means a lot.
National Food Allergy Awareness Week takes place from May 13-19. Find out more information here.
This article originally appeared in Kidspot and has been republished with permission.