Finding a way to see food allergies as 'a blessing in disguise'

Last updated 05:00 16/05/2015
Food allergies

For 10 years, Debra has made every breakfast, lunch and dinner for her son to avoid his allergies.

Does an allergy rule your life?

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Does an allergy rule your life?

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It has been 10 years since my first boy was born, and the long hard road of learning about and dealing with allergies.

My story is similar to that of the mum who wrote When Food Can Kill - Baby born with cradle cap, more eczema starts to cover his body as the months go by (still just breast feeding). When solids are introduced he gets worse and starts screaming in pain at night.

I was told by Plunket that babies do that, but I knew it was something else. He would scream for up to an hour, almost curling up like his stomach hurt, then he would pass wind and eventually start to calm down.

When he did sleep, it was very disrupted because he would be scratching himself silly. It was a very hard time for all of us.

When he was 1, we gave him his first sip of cow's milk. He immediately came out in hives and his voice sounded like he had sucked on a helium balloon.

That was the turning point of finding out he was allergic to many foods, including dairy, eggs, peanuts, gluten, soy and peas, as well as environmental allergens like birch pollen, rye grass, animal dander and penicillium mould.


When food can kill

There is nothing trendy about a food allergy 

Keeping son alive until he outgrows allergy 

People would look strangely at me as I wiped everything down, but if someone had just eaten peanut butter and had the oil on their hands then touched the table or toy, my son could go into anaphylactic shock if he came into contact with it.

We have learnt a lot over the years, and I have almost become a food scientist with the knowledge I have gained. Sadly that means that not many people invite us over for dinner, because we are too difficult to feed!

For 10 years, I have made every breakfast, lunch and dinner for my son. I never go anywhere without something for him to eat.

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I am lucky that the first school he attended only had 17 children, so eliminating allergens was a lot easier. The other parents were happy to help.

The school got the children to sit on a special mat to eat their lunch and afterwards they would vacuum up the crumbs, while all the children went and washed their hands.

We eventually joined The Correspondence School, partly due to us travelling but also because it was much easier to maintain my son's allergies and keep on top of the never-ending moisturising etc on his skin.

Summertime at school was the hardest, because there were always swimming lessons and the chlorine was terrible on his skin. I would have to come down every day to wash his skin down afterwards and moisturise him (again!).


* It's hard being a kid with food allergies

* Son now thriving after years of allergy pain

* The real cost of living with allergies

He is 10 now, and this is the first year of sending him and his brother to a school. It's not very large (170 students), but to us it is.

The school has been very accommodating and did a very good job of teaching everyone at the school all about anaphylaxis and what to do if it happens. My son carries an Epi-pen with him everywhere and a second one is in the school office.

Ten years! Ten long hard years of tears and joy. Ten years of making every single meal. No just popping into the cafe and grabbing something for him. Or a quick fish and chips for an evening meal ... until now.

We were going out for dinner at the local Working Mens' Club, so I went in to see if there was anything he could eat, otherwise I would pack something for him to eat. (That in itself has had its moments over the years, as you have to sheepishly try to convince cafe staff why you are bringing in a lunchbox for your child, even though you are paying for and ordering three other meals.)

Thankfully I met a wonderful lady who not only understood, she went out of her way to make sure he could have a meal. She said she could get out the mini-deep fryer so that the chips and chicken she was going to cook would not get contaminated with other food.

I felt tears well up, as I thought it was so wonderful she would do that. For once my son could eat a "normal" meal like everyone else.

Can you just imagine right now, picking up that first hot chip and slowly biting down on it.  Fried chicken and chips are such normal and common food for so many people, but for my son and myself it was an amazing moment.

He is still allergic to peanuts, dairy, eggs and gluten and has the same environmental allergies.

We have also learnt that he is super sensitive to the naturally forming chemicals found in food; salicylates, amines and glutamates. We need to monitor when he has certain food, like avocado, and make sure he doesn't have it for three days in a row, or he will have a build-up of salicylates and his body will react.

There have been three books that have really made a difference to us. They are:

* Friendly Food by Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

This book gives you easy to understand recipes and detailed lists of the foods that contain salicylates, amines and glutamates, and whether their content is low, moderate or very high.

* Jenna's Journey by Rachel Tomkinson.

This book was the best eye-opener to the biggest of all problems in our food ... MSG! You will be surprised to find how many different foods you can find it in, and how they get away with not listing it on the ingredients list. Even some jams can contain MSG because they have used corn syrup. 

* The Chemical Maze by Bill Statham.

I would take this book to bed at night and one item of food or a beauty product, then read all the ingredients. It didn't take me long to work out how bad some of the chemicals were that we were not only digesting, but putting directly onto our biggest organ ... the skin

Our family and extended family and friends have learned a lot over the years, and I look at my son's condition not as a burden but as a blessing in disguise, because we are all now so much healthier because of it.


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