This week is food allergy awareness week. Over the next five days, I’ll be handing over my blog to parents whose children suffer from allergies in a bid to raise awareness and eliminate any associated misconceptions.
I’m Emma and I write the blog, Free from Farm House, which I set up after my son had an anaphylactic reaction to milk at 15 months old. I share our lives as an allergy family – advice, recipes and experiences – to inspire and support others.
1. Who suffers from allergies in your family, when were they diagnosed and what allergies do they have?
My son is allergic to peanut, tree nuts, egg, sesame and garlic. He has now outgrown his milk allergy. My daughter is allergic to milk, egg, sesame an chilli. They were both diagnosed as babies.
2. How long was the process of diagnosis, tell us about your experience?
The process with my son was very frustrating, upsetting and unfortunately, as I now know, very common. I visited the doctors multiple times – sometimes daily – trying to get some help. The only person to ever mention allergies was my health visitor but soon after, I was told by a dermatology consultant that his symptoms couldn’t be caused by allergens through my breastmilk. He was given very strong steroids which helped but every time we tried to take him off them, his eczema just flared up again. Once we were referred for allergy tests and excluded those foods, his skin cleared up completely. With my daughter, I knew she was reacting straight away. Sadly it still took a lot of doctors visits to convince them to prescribe a dairy free formula and a bad reaction during weaning to get an allergist referral.
3. How do these allergies affect you and your families on a day to day basis?
We are used to living as an allergy family but everything just takes a bit more thought and planning. We always have to carry their medication, read labels and be prepared with safe food. Every new situation like starting school, going to a friends’ house or trying a new restaurant takes extra steps, conversations and risk assessment. We still do all the normal things any other family does but we cannot be quite as spontaneous and need to think about their allergies.
4. Have your child’s allergies impacted your travel, if so how?
We have travelled to France, Spain, America and Dubai with their allergies. Again, it is a big consideration and we take extra steps to keep them safe but we do not let it hold us back. We research destinations, take precautions on flights and make sure we are fully equipped. I set up a site Allergy Travels to help other people travel safely and confidently with allergies.
5. If your child is old enough, do they understand their allergies? If not, how do you plan to explain it to them in the future?
My son is 5 and my daughter is nearly 3, so they have different levels of understanding. We have always made it part of everyday conversation. We talk about what they can eat, why we have to ask questions about food and what a reaction is. We use role play in their toy kitchen and cook a lot with them so food isn’t scary. Before J started school, we helped him practice saying no to food, knowing what a reaction feels like and when to tell a teacher. He knows how an EpiPen works and how his allergens can hide in other food. I think the most important thing is to normalise it so they are confident talking about it to others.
6. Do you feel that people are understanding of your child’s allergies? If not, why do you think this is?
I think understanding is increasing but most people still don’t know how serious non-nut allergies can be or that a very small amount can cause a serious reaction. When people do, they are usually very accommodating.
7. Are there any resources or websites which you’ve found particularly helpful?
Allergy UK has lots of great resources and I have gained great support from facebook forums. I like Allergy Buddies, Breastfeeding With CMPA, and I now run one – living with allergies and asthma.
8. What advice would you give to any parent whose child has just been diagnosed with an allergy?
Take a deep breath and know that you can do this. It’s scary and it’s overwhelming but there are lots of parents out there who understand. Do your research, join some forums and take your time learning to find your new normal.
It’s Food Allergy Awareness week from 13-19th May. Make sure you pop back for more Q&A’s!