Living with a child who has a life threatening allergy
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
No one can prepare you for how having a child with a life-threatening allergy will affect a huge number of decisions in your life from where you go on holiday, to what medications to buy, to what school he will go to, who you entrust your child to and what order to make food in the house so it is safe. It can be exhausting.
It was confirmed that our son had a life-threatening allergy to milk at our local A&E department after he had drunk a mouthful of baby formula at home aged 4 months. He started to cough, vomit, his breathing became laboured, he was very distressed, he was itchy and he had a bumpy rash all over his body. It was terrifying.
We were sent away from A&E with Epi-Pens (adrenaline), antihistamine syrup and inhalers, it was a bewildering, daunting and lonely experience. While other parents were happily giving their child formula and were starting to wean their children onto all the food groups, we had to be wary of any food that went near him in case there were other allergens he had not been tested for that he was allergic to. Initially, we did not change our lifestyle but were careful, yet he would still have minor reactions regularly, if we ate something cheesy then kissed him he would have a mild reaction, if we had residue food on our hands and we touched him he became itchy and blotchy, so we decided to cut dairy out of our diets while we were around him.
What we didnot anticipate was how difficult it would be to live ‘normally’. Many pre-packaged food products contain milk, for example some brands of fish fingers, sausages, chicken nuggets, breads, crisps & cooked meats have milk in them. Going to children's parties was a minefield and I always had to be there. Everything we buy has to be checked, including hand wash, no matter how many times you have bought it before. I started to cook a lot more, adapting recipes to be dairy-free and this is was the beginning of Wombie's Kitchen although it would be another 12 years before I thought about trying to make a living out of it.
Travelling abroad is not easy, food prepared on flights are not geared up for people with allergies, gluten-free is catered for, vegetarians too, yet not dairy-free. We always take our own food and while we would anyway for peace of mind, a part of me is irked that we have to. Even eating out locally can be stressful, making sure a restaurant kitchen understands that food needs to be dairy-free is a challenge, add a language that you donot speak well into the mix and you are basically playing Russian roulette. That sounds melodramatic, it is really not meant to be, it is just the truth. Our son in Greece had so many minor, thankfully, reactions despite a conversation in every restaurant we went to and a document written by a Greek friend stating what he was allergic to, that we let him have a McDonald's for the last few days. It was safer.
As he gets older, and we know he is unlikely to grow out of his allergy, we wonder what the future holds. I look back to my mid-teens and think about going out with friends and wanting to fit in and the decisions he is going to be faced with after being a bit worse for wear and it scares me. All we can do is make sure he knows the risks, that his friends all know about his allergy and hope that he makes the right decisions.