By Guest Blogger, Christine Pomper
A few months after I announced my pregnancy, my mother surprised me with an early mommy gift – a subscription to Parents Magazine. I remember spending the last weeks of my pregnancy skimming a variety of useful articles. One article that I remember seeing in my first issue was boldly entitled something like PEANUT ALLERGY – A GROWING PROBLEM. I purposefully skipped over that article while thinking, “There are no food allergies in this family – does not apply to my baby!” If only I had known then what I know now!
About 14 months later, I proudly served my one year old bouncing baby boy Sam his first peanut butter sandwich. Peanut butter was a staple of my diet, the comfort food that initially staved off nausea during my pregnancy, and later fulfilled my ravenous appetite while nursing. I spread the creamy peanut butter on soft, finely sliced bread and watched my boy taste it. He ate half of the sandwich and smiled his adorable smile. I promptly put him down for his nap. When I checked on him an hour later he was covered with an angry red rash all over his body including his face, arms, torso and legs. As Sam’s dad has skin that is eczema prone and sensitive to fragrances, I thought like father, like son and I immediately blamed the baby suntan lotion I had applied to Sam for the first time earlier that days. It took almost two weeks for Sam’s rash to clear.
During those two weeks I, unwittingly and thankfully, also did not find the occasion to serve him peanut butter. A few days after the rash had cleared I had run out of baby food jars and so I reached into the pantry for some peanut butter. Maybe Sam already sensed what I had yet to figure out, but he only touched the sandwich to his lips and ate one small bite before refusing any more. I figured he was just being picky. This time, when a much more severe rash appeared, I knew it was the peanut butter. But still, I was not overly concerned. After all, a rash, while unsightly and uncomfortable did not seem life threatening. Nevertheless, I made an appointment to have him checked.
Our pediatrician immediately told us to maintain a peanut free diet in our home, prescribed an epi-pen junior and referred us to an allergist at Baptist Hospital. Sam tested positive to peanut, but not tree nuts. Through the help of our doctors we learned that severe food allergies, especially peanut, may not always be life threatening in the initial exposure episode but that repeated exposures can cause reactions of increasing severity. We learned that rashes can lead to swelling and that external swelling often indicates internal swelling which can lead to impingement on the airway and vital organs. We avoid products processed on the same line as peanuts. We check all ingredients and inform all babysitters and teachers of the situation. We call ahead when he is invited to birthday parties and keep a stash of “safe” cupcakes in our freezer in case we need to provide a safe food for a party.
While our family and friends have been very understanding, every once in a while a peanut product will end up in Sam’s Easter or Christmas stash. We use an exchange program – trade the peanut food for an equally cool peanut free snack. Now Benadryl and epi pens are stashed in our kitchen, our bathroom and in both of our cars and in my purse. Since his diagnosis, we have had two more children – one with no allergy and one with a peanut allergy. My second child’s allergy presented differently and I continue to learn new ways to manage what one allergist aptly coined as the “shape shifting” allergy.
I feel so lucky that Sam’s initial exposures were not life threatening. He is now 10 years old and while he has been to the emergency room repeatedly for his peanut allergy, we have only had to use his epi-pen one time. Interestingly enough, it was Sam who urged us to use it – he knows when it is a bad reaction!
I hope this post today will help some of you who may be dealing with a similar issue. If you have tips or thoughts to share, please do so below!