Eight years ago my son was diagnosed with multiple severe (some potentially life-threatening) food allergies. What I remember now are several years of living in a nervous haze, wondering whether each day would bring the unexpected, either on my own watch or by receiving that dreaded phone call saying that he had been exposed to something which could send him into anaphylaxis.
There are several lessons we've learned over the years as food allergy parents. But mostly, it really all comes down to preparedness. Being prepared help you to both live with less anxiety and maintain your composure in the case of an emergency. Here are some suggestions for staying sane as a parent of a child with severe food allergies:
1. Have emergency medicines ready
Do not get lax about bringing your emergency medicines with you. This sounds like a no-brainer but you would be surprised at how many people leave home without their emergency medicines. You can put them in a case that hangs from a belt loop or keep them in a purse just as you would your wallet or keys. My son keeps them on-hand at all times in his school backpack, or a bag he takes with him to parties and on play-dates. Companies make all different cases now that can be strapped to clothing or even worn on a wrist or ankle, so you and your child can decide what works best for you both.
2. Get a prescription
Speaking of your wallet… Have your doctor write an extra prescription for epinephrine (undated). Put it in your wallet and forget about it. That is, until the day when you realize you have left your epinephrine at home. This was one of the best tips I received from a parent when my son was first diagnosed.
Related: 10 safety tips that could save your child's life
3. Clean surfaces
Have cleansing wipes on-hand to clean off arm rests, children's rides, and other potential hazards. You can store them in a purse or in the pocket or glove compartment in your car. You never know what has residue on it from the previous person who touched that item. (This is good practice not just for food allergies but for germs too.)
Keep in mind that cleansing products are preferred, as gel hand sanitizers are not a guarantee for getting rid of food proteins on surfaces.
4. Bring extras
If you're bringing a piece of cake or a treat to a party for your allergic child, consider bringing an extra piece since kids have a tendency to drop items on the floor and to touch one another's food. Bringing extras will save you time and apprehension -- bring extras just in case.
5. Call ahead
Know what food options will be available for your child wherever you are headed. If you suspect there may not be options available, bring plenty of food with you. Once again, you would be surprised at how many people expect there to be allergy-free foods available, only to arrive and have nothing safe to eat. Keep in mind that others may be completely unfamiliar with the severity of food allergies, especially since the term is often misused by those with food intolerances.
6. Wear a sign
When your child is out of your care, consider having him or her wear something that explains to caregivers that your child has food allergies. There are age-appropriate bracelets, necklaces, pins, t-shirts and hats available - for toddlers to teens - to identify those with food allergies.
7. Practice makes perfect
Use your expired epinephrine for practice purposes. The epinephrine injector is a unique type of shot, and practicing will help you prepare for an emergency situation. This will also help you to remain calm in the event of an emergency. (Your doctor may suggest practicing on an orange as putting the injector through the skin of the orange closely mimics what it feels like to give the shot to a person.) Once you get the hang of it, you may want to practice in front of your child so he or she will understand what will happen in an emergency situation. If your child is old enough to administer his or her own medication, make sure that he or she practices too.
8. Read the labels
Become an expert label reader. Know the hidden ingredients in foods that may present a problem for your child. Don't count out the potential dangers of cross-contamination. Call companies and go to company websites for nutritional information. Continue to read labels even on items you purchase regularly, since it is not uncommon for companies to change their food formulas.
-By Jessica Cohen
For 4 more things food allergy parents can do to stay sane, visit Babble!
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