It started with hives. I noticed the rash and was concerned. We had just given her scrambled eggs – her first time eating eggs. She was just over age one. Everything I read said no eggs before one, so we waited. She had had eggs in small bits before, cooked into batters for waffles, cupcakes, and second hand through me when she was breastfeeding. But the offending, hive-inducing eggs were the first full eggs that we gave her. And there she was: welts on her arms, legs, and stomach.
We were lucky – her breathing was fine, and she seemed otherwise unharmed. A pediatrician visit with referral to an allergist followed, and we found ourselves with a skin test revealing a severe allergy to eggs. It turns out that egg is one of the “big 8” food allergens, and, after some research, I learned that an estimated 2% of children have an egg allergy, with 70% of those children outgrowing the allergy, usually by the time they are four or five.
We were directed to immediately go fill our prescription for Epi-Pens, having been told that we should keep an Epi-Pen with us at all times, training her caregivers, babysitters, and family in the event that she had a reaction. The prescription comes with two pens, and you can fill the refill almost immediately, so we ended up with four pens: one for her diaper bag, one for the kitchen, one for her classroom at daycare, and one for the nurse’s office at daycare.
In the days after her diagnosis, I researched as much as I could about egg allergies. I learned that eggs are in everything. Well – to be fair – not everything. But it sure felt like it. I was used to paying attention to ingredients because she had a dairy intolerance as an infant, and as I thought about it, I realized that the projectile vomit I attributed to slip ups in my dairy intake during nursing could have actually been reactions to egg.
It was stressful in those first days. I was scared, concerned, and determined to find out as much as possible.
And we were lucky.
Lucky because we live in a country that regulates food production, guaranteeing that allergens are clearly listed on food labels. It made buying food much less stressful to be able to quickly glance at the allergen list under the ingredients.
Lucky because we have good insurance through my husband’s job. Our co-pay was relatively low for her allergist specialist visit. Our insurance covered the normally expensive Epi-Pens, with us only paying the regular co-pay.
Lucky because I had a supportive community. As soon as I posted the picture of my sweet girl’s back, red and lined with welts from the allergy panel, asking for egg allergy information, I had friends messaging, texting, calling, offering advice and insight. I did not realize it at the time, but I was being taken in by a group of moms who take care of each other – food allergy moms are a special breed.
Lucky because we send our daughter to a school where food allergies are taken seriously, where there is a procedure in place, where her teachers were trained by the school nurse – well, lucky that we’re in a school where there is a school nurse. Her teachers were amazing. They kept the Epi-Pen in their first aid backpack, and carried it with them at all times when outside the classroom. They had a routine for cleaning up from snack and lunch before letting her out of her high chair to prevent her grabbing anyone else’s food (as one-year-olds can do). She had a specific high chair that was “hers” so that egg would not touch the tray or her food. And, not only were we lucky that they were so amazing, we are lucky to be able to make that choice for her – that, if they had not been, we would have been able to move her somewhere that was. Not every family has that ability.
Lucky because she did outgrow it. At her follow-up appointment six months later, they did their standard test, feeding her bits of scrambled egg we brought from home, starting in tiny amounts. As it became clear over the course of an hour that she was not having a reaction, it was as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I still get nervous when she eats anything with egg (even though she has been released by the allergist,) but we’re lucky. She’s outgrown her allergy.
And I know that is not the case for other kids with other allergies. Our brief stint with a food allergy made me grateful for good health – for the fact that, prior to this experience, I had been privileged enough to not have to go through life, epi-pen in hand, terrified of a stray peanut or even a wasp sting. And it gave me clarity, gave me empathy, and gave me perspective.
From my time as an allergy mom, I became incredibly aware of the fact that there are places where food allergies are not taken seriously – where being in an allergen-free environment is seen as an inconvenience. Where parents would rather their child be able to eat what they want at the expense of another child’s life. And that is a hard burden to bear as a parent. For as great as our school is, our food policy was not allergen free, so every school party was spent with me anxiously hovering over my toddler to ensure she did not grab an offending piece of food.
And I had the ability to be there, watching her. As kids get older, they attend dinners, sleepovers, etc., where their parents aren’t there checking their food. And kids aren’t always with their parents and caregivers nonstop, with epi-pen in hand. I cannot imagine relying on my elementary school child to remember her epi-pen wherever they go.
And so, I ask this:
Have compassion. If your child is in a classroom that is nut/dairy/egg/shellfish/whatever free, take it seriously.
Don’t complain. Put yourself in that parent’s shoes. You would the same for your child. For their health. For their safety.
Check ingredient lists – don’t just assume something is allergen free.
And, ultimately, know that the parents are only looking out for the well-being of their child. And that’s a pretty heavy task.