Son's allergies need 'constant vigilance' stuff nation

SEVERE REACTION: Fruit and vegetables are among the foods that cause problems for Helen's young son.
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SEVERE REACTION: Fruit and vegetables are among the foods that cause problems for Helen's young son.

We have a 3-year-old boy who first presented with eczema at 6 weeks old.

We were fortunate to have a paediatrician who looked at the whole picture and advised us then about the possibility that our child might go on to develop allergies. Even then we were not prepared for his first anaphylactic episode at 10 months old.

This occurred in the context of introducing solid foods. We had been going slowly because he showed reactions to many of the first foods we tried - pear, rice and kumera. Reactions including worsening of eczema, gastric symptoms and hives.

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Our son's first anaphylactic reaction was to tahini/sesame in humous and it was a complete life change. We were avoiding a number of foods by this time - fish, wheat, many fruits, some vegetables, dairy, soy, eggs and nuts - and now we were avoiding traces of sesame.

We moved back to New Zealand when our son was 17 months old and the picture just got worse for us. We paid privately to see a specialist because we needed a special authority to continue giving our son hypoallergenic formula, which was critical for his ongoing development.

We also had to replace the adrenaline auto-injectors (AAIs) we had purchased after his anaphylaxis to find there was no subsidy for this critical life-saving treatment in New Zealand. That's when we started the campaign to seek a review of funding for AAIs in New Zealand and to raise awareness about anaphylaxis.

We found there was some understanding about food allergies in early years environments but it was patchy, and as we approach our son's 3rd birthday we still have not had a night out on our own since his allergies were identified.

Our son has been attending creche more recently but it took a lot of planning and investigating to find a facility that offered appropriate safeguards, and we are very involved with his care while there.

In the past month, our son has had two further anaphylactic reactions. The first was triggered by exposure to nut traces on the clothing of a teacher at creche and the second was through accidental exposure to milk protein. Fortunately, our son responded well to treatment.

Early intervention is critical during anaphylaxis but it does not matter how well informed you are it is a traumatic experience for all involved and just underlines the need for constant vigilance, which is exhausting in itself.

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Services and support are patchy. We don't see our specialist until next year. Thankfully, we have established a strong online community and that's where we get our support, from other parents and families living with severe allergies.

Without that support we would be at sea in a world of uncertainties and conflicting, and often inaccurate, information.

Other support: Allergy New Zealand

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