In 1980, at the age of 7, I became a near expert in the most unexpected topic. Food allergies.
While most of my childhood friends were out perfecting their roller-skating moves, I was home memorizing a list of allergens our family must keep away from my younger sibling in order to keep her alive.
Before I dive deeper into this topic, it’s important to take a slight pause.
Remember, this was 1980. At this time food allergies were not a “trending topic” in the media.
There were no food allergy blogs. No “safe cupcakes” for school parties. No allergy alert sticky labels for kids’ lunchboxes. No storybooks for children with food allergies and their parents to read at night, reassuring them everything was going to be OK.
At the time, food allergies were unknown to most people.
Not a typical family
Growing up I knew no other families with food allergies much less those allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, sesame, wheat, fruits, shellfish, and more.
We were not like other families. And that was super clear.
We quickly became a band of warriors on a mission to protect one of our own tribe.
Birthday parties were now dairy danger zones — ice cream, cakes, and other delights.
A night out at a restaurant was met with concern as we doubted our teenage waitress and if she heard our “no butter” request.
As it goes however, some crazy good often emerges when things get bad.
We learned clever solutions and life hacks in which to make our way. And years later when I went on to have children who had food allergies, I felt slightly more prepared.
Two kids with combined allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, sesame, shellfish, mango, and strawberries? No problem. I got this.
A different era now
Being a parent to a child with allergies in 2017, however, is far different than being one in 1980.
I’ve adopted many of my mother’s smart survival techniques while adhering to new study findings and important information out these days.
Today, we write Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plans, which we share with schools and others to help with positive outcomes in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
We share “signs to look for” with babysitters, teachers, and grandparents for an allergic reaction. These include tightness of throat, struggling to breathe, wheezing, and loss of consciousness.
We share tips on ways kids describe allergic reactions that might be confusing but are crucial to listen for. These include phrases such as “my throat tickles.”
However, it’s still difficult in today’s modern world to keep your child with food allergies safe as they travel through their busy lives from home, school, after school, bus, playdate, soccer practice, and so on.
Communication on how to keep kids with allergies safe can be lost and potentially lead to confusion in the event of a food allergy related emergency.
New guidelines released
Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a written action plan to help families, schools, and communities with ways to respond to life-threatening allergic reactions.
The plan is featured in the AAP clinical report, Guidance on Completing a Written Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan.
This plan reaffirms the importance of giving epinephrine in first aid treatment for anaphylaxis-related reactions and includes written plans for when and how to use it.
The report is customizable and provides guidance for use.
Also included with the article is a second AAP clinical report called, Epinephrine for First-Aid Management of Anaphylaxis, which helps stress that administering an EpiPen is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis episodes rather than other medications such as antihistamines.
Tonya Winders, the president and chief executive officer of the Allergy and Asthma Network, is excited to see the new guidance.
“It is critically important to educate the public,” she told Healthline. “Every person can play an important role in recognizing the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and in being prepared to respond with epinephrine to save a life. The guidelines also can empower families to have a more productive dialogue with their child's pediatrician based on the best scientific evidence.”
For now, it’s a group effort to keep our two young children safe.
However, I’m prepping myself for the teenage years ahead. Teens today face higher rates of anaphylaxis episodes because they are often careless with carrying their EpiPens and more casual with avoiding food allergy triggers.
While other parents will be battling their teens not to text and drive I’ll do the same but while also yelling out the door, “And don’t forget your EpiPen!”
Kristen Duncan Williams is the Founder of FAKS: Families of Allergic Kids at School. FAKS is an organization devoted to spreading more allergy awareness in a public school setting. For more information contact: email@example.com.