The child of a friend of mine was just diagnosed with a peanut allergy. Until I began to discuss what this meant with her, I had forgotten just how overwhelming the initial part of this process can be.
So, what DO you do upon learning you or your child has a food allergy? Where to begin!? Don’t panic, take a deep breath and follow these few steps to get started:
1. Find a recommended allergist; preferably one who specializes in food allergies. Often times, food allergy diagnoses emerge from a pediatric/internist visit or a trip to the emergency room. And while these professionals are knowledgeable, it’s important to touch base with an allergist who is on top of ever-changing information and treatment. Our fabulous pediatrician not only has a child with food allergies but is food allergic herself. And despite that, even SHE defers to our allergist!
2. Fill your prescriptions and learn how to use your auto-injector. There’s no wrong answer when it comes to choosing which auto-injector to use (see: Auvi-Q vs. EpiPen: Which Is Best for You?) . And you can learn how to use them here: Familiarize or Refamiliarize Yourself With How to Use an EpiPen and Auvi-Q: Watch and Learn. While you’re at the pharmacy, I would pick up a couple of boxes of Benadryl (for kids, at least two liquid packages) to keep in your house and at school.
3. Review your pantry and devise a labeling system. It’s important to make your home a safe space to eat. Begin by reading ingredient lists and separate safe and unsafe foods. Put that dining room table to good use! And, don’t forget: manufacturing being what it is, many products are made on equipment that contains your allergen and should be put aside until you speak to your allergist. An example of a labeling system can be found here.
4. Create an Emergency Action Plan and an Emergency On-the-Go Pack. An Emergency Action Plan eliminates questions and increases your confidence about what to do when certain symptoms arise. You can have your pediatrician/internist or your allergist fill one out for you. Make a few copies to keep at home, school, in the car, on the fridge, in your On-the-Go Kit, etc. The more, the better!
An Emergency On-the-Go Pack corrals all your emergency medication, including your auto-injector, plus your Emergency Action Plan and a copy of your insurance card into one pouch. You’ll always know that you have all of your necessary supplies when you leave the house. Plus, it will make it super-simple to pass your pack between bags or to another caregiver and know that everything your child needs to stay safe is at hand.
A few notes: Jot down questions as they arise in this early part of the process. Use your questions as discussion points and get clear answers from your allergist. Please refer to Allergy Shmallergy’s SCHOOL category to get ideas of how to handle allergy issues at your child’s school, starting with Back to School Food Allergy Checklist.
Most of all, remain calm! Managing with a food allergy certainly requires a different perspective on life. But, it doesn’t need to be stress inducing. Staying informed and answering each challenge with simple solutions will allow your family to thrive.