Bubba had severe eczema as a baby that did not resolve with an appropriate skin care routine. As a nursing mother, I tried eliminating dairy and soy from my diet and her skin got 70% better. Because she still had mysterious eczema flares we had a hunch she was being exposed to additional allergens through my breast milk. We had her skin tested around 6 months old for Top 8 allergens and discovered that she was allergic to all of them except wheat. In the years that followed we learned of additional allergens through trial by fire and testing. For example, when she had an anaphylactic reaction to sesame, we decided to test for additional seeds before we exposed her.
Do food allergies run in your family?
Neither my husband nor I have food allergies. However, we both have family members with food allergies and intolerances.
Has Bubba had an actual anaphylactic reaction?
Yes. Many unfortunately. We did not recognize her first severe allergic reactions as anaphylactic and as a result we did not administer epinephrine. We feel unbelievably lucky that Bubba survived. Bubba has had an epi-pen or Auvi-Q three times.
Can Bubba be around her allergens?
That’s a great question. We keep eggs and milk in our home and occasionally have a sauce or dressing with one of her allergens in them, e.g. mustard flour in a BBQ sauce or sesame oil in a salad dressing. Her brother and sister drink milk, eat yogurt and cheese, and occasionally have scrambled eggs. All of these foods are served carefully in our home. They are eaten under supervision, we communicate with Bubba about it, and we always clean ourselves and surfaces afterward. Bubba has never had an air-borne reaction. They can happen, but they are rare. She has had contact reactions to milk and eggs a handful of times. For example, my husband peeled and ate a hard boiled egg and then picked up naked Bubba. She got hives on her torso everywhere he had touched her. When this happens we wash her skin immediately with soap and water and the hives go away. Bubba has never been exposed to many of the foods she tests positive for, e.g. shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts (almonds are safe). We are more nervous having her around these foods because we have no way of knowing what her reaction would look like and because these allergies have such a reputation for severe reactions.
Many friends want to know how best to keep Bubba safe at a lunch table, on a play date, or at the park. She needs to be supervised and made aware when kids around her are eating her allergens. She can not share food or drinks. If you or your child have hands or a mouth covered in an allergen, we’d love it if you could wash hands or wipe your hands/mouth with a baby wipe before resuming playing with her. We aren’t comfortable with her eating around kids eating peanut butter or at a table of shellfish. But otherwise, we try to let her live life as freely as possible. She’s fine sitting next to your kid eating a cheese stick. Bubba attends school, plays at parks, touches grocery-carts, etc. So most likely your home is safe for her as are your toys. Because there are so many realistic fears for us to focus on, we do our best not to spend time on the what-ifs. What I mean by that is, there are some kids who can not play on playgrounds because they’ve had reactions from their hands touching contaminated surfaces. Their parents take appropriate precautions based on their experience. We take (what we believe) are appropriate precautions based on Bubba’s specific testing and history. If further restrictions on her life are warranted, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Bubba has safely attended birthday parties (90% of which had pizza and/or cake) at bouncy house facilities, gymnasiums, homes and parks. We turned down one invitation for a cooking party because we worried without the ‘hands-on’ portion of the party she would feel miserably left-out. On play dates, at get togethers, and at parties we have learned to scoop out some safe snacks for Bubba before foods become contaminated with Pirate’s Booty cheese dust and the like.
How do you go out to eat?
What’s surprising (and yet not) is that this in one of the most common questions we get. The short answer is, we don’t. Eating out with Bubba isn’t just an issue of cross-contamination or checking every ingredient. It is actually fairly complicated to make meals free of her 30 allergens. Meals like this are not common on menus. I guess she could eat plain pasta and marinara? Maybe a plain baked potato with nothing on it? Tortilla chips? When you add the expense of such a boring meal to the general chaos of eating out with three kids age six and under, all appeal is lost. Grilled nuggets and fries are safe for her at Chick-fil-A, but she doesn’t like the nuggets. So kinda what’s the point? We do have one local pizza restaurant that we feel comfortable in. They make her a cheese-less pizza with olive oil, mushrooms, and olives. We know the manager, love that they have an allergy stamp for their receipts, and yet we still discuss Bubba’s allergies and the need for a clean pizza cutter every time we place an order.
The reason this question doesn’t really surprise me is it is one of the first issues I mourned when Bubba was diagnosed. When and until Bubba grows out of many of her allergens or there are effective therapies, the reality is restaurants will not be a big or enjoyable part of her life. I am a foodie of sorts who spent years obsessing over restaurants, so it was hard for me to accept that she couldn’t share in this delight. But I have. And we have moved on.
How does Bubba feel about her food allergies? Does she understand?
Bubba is a pretty easy-going kid, at least emotionally. As long as she gets a treat when other kids get a treat, she has yet to really care that hers is different or that other kids get more choices. We anticipate that she may struggle more with feeling different when she gets older. Similarly, Bubba doesn’t show much anxiety about her allergies. She may become more fearful when, developmentally, she understands the implications of how severe her allergies are. She understands what happens to her body when she eats an allergen and what we need to do to help her body. But she has no concept of death or danger. So, no, I can’t say she really understands yet.