For many who grew up in the '90s, Tia Mowry was a part of their childhood.
The actress starred as a teen alongside her identical twin sister, Tamera, on the popular family sitcom "Sister, Sister" for six seasons.
Now, Mowry is using her platform to raise awareness about a sometimes-overlooked, but very serious, health concern for many parents and their children — peanut allergies.
The issue is a personal one for her. Mowry's 7-year-old son, Cree, lives with a peanut allergy.
Diagnosed at 3, Cree had to learn at a young age how to navigate what can be a deadly allergy for many. In fact, it's one of the eight most common food allergies. A peanut allergy can lead to potentially life-threatening reactions.
About 4 to 8 percent of children have a peanut allergy, which has no known cure.
The best treatment? Avoid consuming peanut-containing foods.
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you have a young child, Mowry told Healthline.
"It was very traumatic when I first found out that my son had a peanut allergy," said Mowry, who also has another child, Cairo, with husband Cory Hardrict. "It was a traumatic experience, there's no other way to describe it."
She first noticed something was wrong when she was tucking Cree in for bed one night and found that he had hives all over his body — bumps on his hands, arms, and torso. Mowry immediately brought him to the emergency room where doctors referred him to an allergist where he was diagnosed.
"Prior to all of this, we weren't really worried at all about what he was eating that could potentially cause serious harm to him, but now we realize that a child with a peanut allergy is a very serious issue," she said.
Her son's experience has led Mowry to become an outspoken peanut-allergy advocate.
She's currently the face of "Talking Peanut Allergy," an awareness campaign from DBV Technologies, a biopharmaceutical company. For her, it was important to be able to educate others, especially those whom she calls "co-protectors," adults that kids might come into contact with who aren't their parents.
"I want to spread awareness to not only moms like myself and the 1.5 million children who are diagnosed with a peanut allergy, but to the 'co-protectors,'" Mowry said. "We can all play a role in helping families with children who have a peanut allergy. Our family really tries to protect [Cree] from accidental exposure, but it really doesn't take away the worries I have every single day. My son is not with me all the time."
For parents, it can be especially stressful to send their kids off to school where they don't necessarily know what foods their children will come in contact with. Mowry added she is lucky that her son goes to a school that is a "peanut-free zone."
Dr. Jacqueline Pongracic, chief of allergy and immunology in the department of pediatrics at Northwestern Medicine, said that parents who don't have this option should work with their school administrators and staff to try to reduce risk of exposure as much as possible.
"I encourage parents to provide the school with a copy of an emergency action plan that clearly indicates the child's food allergens along with emergency medications for the school on hand," Pongracic told Healthline. "Parents should articulate to school staff that their child should not consume any food product if the ingredients cannot be confirmed."
She added, "I also recommend that parents provide the school with a stash of food and treats that they know are 'safe,' and that their child likes, so that their child doesn't have to miss out when classmates are eating, especially during classroom parties and celebrations."
Pongracic said she encourages parents to "role play" potential scenarios with their kids to help them learn how to handle times when they might be in a potentially peanut-risky environment.
"One of the challenges for me is making sure that my son doesn't feel less than or different. Or 'my friends can have that, but I can't have that.' I think it just took explaining to him and educating him about what he can eat and can't eat, and also that there are other alternatives," Mowry said. "He's very smart about his peanut allergy and he's very educated about it, so that does make me feel a little better about his situation."
Mowry said she has come up with some fun alternatives for Cree. She and her husband have "tubs and tubs of sunflower butter" in their home, which is a tasty and simple alternative to peanut butter.
She said she uses this in Cree's smoothies and he's a big fan of "jelly and sunflower butter sandwiches." Cree also loves when his mom makes "ants on a log," which is celery sticks coated with sunflower butter. She puts "ants" — raisins — on top.
Trick-or-treating safely with a peanut allergy
Halloween can be a particularly tricky time for families dealing with peanut allergies because many candy bars contain peanuts.
Mowry said that she always makes it clear to Cree that he needs to be careful when it comes to trick-or-treat season.
"I would love for families and people to have just a tub of candy that has peanuts and then a section without peanuts so that there are options for trick-or-treaters," she said. "I still have to go through all of his candy and make sure that there aren't peanuts around."
Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic, suggested that parents who go out with their kids on Halloween keep two epinephrine pens on hand in case their kid does have a sudden reaction to what they are eating.
"Have the epinephrine ready to go. If a child has a severe reaction, make sure you have that precaution," she told Healthline. "A lot of families are actually scared to use an epinephrine. I always tell families to go to the ER if they use it, regardless of what happens. A person can still have a delayed reaction to peanut consumption. Some people don't like the idea of going to the emergency room, but it's important."
Hong also suggests parents bring some alternate snacks with them while trick-or-treating so they can easily swap potentially dangerous peanut-containing foods their kids might receive with safer options.
"One idea could be to have a whole bag of safe treats with you," Hong added. "Another suggestion is to tell them they cannot eat anything on the way home, trade them for safe foods or trade them for a present."
For Mowry, she said it all comes down to empowering yourself and, in turn, empowering your child to be knowledgeable about what is safe for them to eat.
"The more you know the better. And the more you have people who either empathize or sympathize with the parent of child with peanut allergies the better," Mowry said. "Education about peanut allergies makes co-protectors better. The parents are better and the child is better off. The more knowledge we have about it, the more parents will feel comfortable."