Being the parent of an allergic child is no picnic. We’ve just returned from our annual trip to the RPA allergy clinic for the latest round of skin prick testing to see how Birdy’s allergies are going.  While we were waiting, I was sitting near a mum and her young son.  I couldn’t help noticing how bad the boy’s eczema was on his hands; they were just a mass of sores.  When I commented to his mother, she sighed and said, ‘Yeah, he’s allergic to everything.’  I asked her, ‘What do you mean, everything?’  ‘Everything,’ she replied.  She then went on to list just about every food known to mankind, including peanuts, eggs, wheat, soy and dairy.  ‘And he used to be allergic to potatoes, but he can eat them now.’  ‘So what does he eat?’ I asked her.  ‘Mainly rice,’ she replied and she also named some kind of protein supplement.  What a nightmare.  I cannot imagine how hard it must be to feed that child.

I’ve always thought I had a tough job feeding my family with Birdy’s egg and nut allergy and my husband’s gluten intolerance.  But at my latest visit to the allergy clinic I learned that it’s not just food I need to worry about.  This time, Birdy’s skin prick test showed a new allergy to almonds.  My paediatrician asked me how Birdy had been exposed to them.  (A new allergy can’t develop unless the child comes into contact with that food.)  As we have never let Birdy eat an almond, and don’t keep any nuts in the house, the source of the allergy was a mystery to me.  It was only later that I remembered that for about a week we had used a moisturizing cream on Birdy’s eczema that contained almond oil.  As soon as we realized it contained nuts, we stopped using it, but even that small amount was enough for her to develop an allergy to almonds.  So it’s not just food we have to watch – it’s also creams, lotions, bath oils etc.

So just when you think you are getting on top of this allergy thing, there’s always something new to learn.  Here’s some of my latest discoveries about asthma, eczema and allergies from my latest visit to the allergy clinic.

–       Jumping on the bed and pillow fights are one of the worst things for asthma because the exercise brings on asthma while the jumping stirs up the dust mites in the bed and triggers an allergic reaction.

–       Sleepovers, school camps and holidays are usually the worst time for asthma and allergies as old blankets, pillows and mattresses are pulled out of dark, dusty places. Grandparents houses and holiday houses can also have older carpets and furnishings that are full of dust or other allergens, such as mould and cat hair.  To prevent problems, you can choose to give the child an antihistamine for three days before they go away.

–       I always thought I was doing the right thing by packing up all my blankets and doonas over winter to stop the dust getting in them.  But when doonas and blankets are packed up with no light and no ventilation the dust mites that are already there breed like crazy.

–       You should never force an allergic child to eat something they don’t want to, as they may be feeling tongue tinglings, which are the early warning signs of an allergic reaction.  Even if you think the food is safe, it may have been contaminated.

–       If somebody brings a banned food into a group environment, like a peanut butter sandwich, the allergic child shouldn’t be made to sit separately, or miss out on the activity.  The child with the allergic food should sit separately so the allergic child isn’t excluded.

–       Easter can be a tricky time but there are more nut-free Easter eggs on the market now.  The most readily available brands are Kinnerton, Heritage and Sweet William (also dairy and gluten-free), which are available at major department stores and supermarkets. (eg. Coles, K-mart, Big W, Aldi).  But always read the labels carefully to check that it meets your specific needs.

By far the biggest thing I’m learning is to be more assertive to protect my child when she can’t protect herself.  In the past, my husband and I have made the mistake of staying at events where peanuts have been present, even after Birdy has had an allergic reaction.  We just didn’t want to offend anyone by insisting that the peanuts be put away.  Unfortunately, many people still say things like, “Well just don’t let her eat any peanuts.”  They don’t realize how easy it is for cross-contamination to occur.  It only takes one person (including the person who prepares the food) to touch the peanuts or a satay skewer and then touch the chips or bread and we’ve got one seriously ill child on our hands.  So in future, we will have no hesitation in saying, ‘Either the peanuts go, or we go.’  We owe it to our child to put her health and safety first.

Do you or your children have asthma, eczema or allergies?  Have they got better over time or have you got better at managing them?  What have you learnt along the way?

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