It is Food Allergy Awareness week this week, and I can still remember the first time we used my son’s Epipen. He was 18 months old and sitting on the dining room floor playing happily with his toys, when I heard the first cough. Not thinking much of it, I kept cooking dinner. Then it happened again and again. My partner crouched down to check on him.
“He’s wheezing”. The coughs continued and in less than a minute the wheezing became more rapid and we noticed he was very pale shade of green.
We looked at each other. “I’ll grab his Epipen, you ring the ambulance” my partner ordered.
I rang 111. “I think my toddler’s having a serious allergic reaction” I remember saying “we have an Epipen but…” We’d never had to use it before.
“Put the phone down now, use the Epipen, then come back to me” the operator said. “Do it NOW. The ambulance is on the way”.
We held our son together and my partner administered the adrenaline into his thigh as we’d been shown. The effect was immediate, he began to breathe again and the wheezing subsided.
By the time the ambulance arrived his colour was back. We whisked to hospital where he was given steroids and observed for 8 hours in case of a secondary reaction.
Food Allergy Awareness Week and epi-pens
Fast forward three years and despite our best efforts to control our very inquisitive and highly allergic pre-schooler, there have been more cases of accidental exposure requiring adrenaline. Thankfully these reactions have only been to trace amounts of his allergens, the adrenaline has worked almost immediately and he’s been ok.
Because of this first-hand experience with food allergies, I was recently asked to talk at a food manufacturing plant during one of their food safety sessions on allergen management. The factory owner thought it would be useful for his employees to hear about our daily life, so that they would understand how important safe food storage and handling practices were.
I’ve become quite accustomed over the last couple of years of explaining my son’s serious allergies to people: No he’s not going to “just get a little itchy” from eating dairy, egg, wheat or nuts. So I was happy to share our story.
As it turns out, they didn’t really need me there.
As I began to talk about my son’s allergies, the issue of cross contamination and the constant label reading, there were murmurs and heads nodding in agreement.
My talk finished and it was break time. I turned to leave and was accosted by people wanting to talk. I heard about a child swelling after eating pineapple, someone else with a severe reaction to eggs. A dad who had raced his son, blue and unconscious, to hospital because an extended family member had given the boy a biscuit containing peanuts.
“Does he have an Epipen now?” I asked. “No, too expensive” came the reply.
Driving home, I thought about how fast my son’s allergic reaction had progressed and how lucky we were to have had the auto injector on hand. I couldn’t even begin to image the fear and panic that dad must have felt in driving his son to hospital (and I’d recommend calling an ambulance instead!). His story was a strong reminder as to why we need auto injector funding in this country.
Helen Richardson, a Wellintonian and mum to a toddler with food allergies, started a campaign at the end of 2013 for exactly that. To date, almost 9000 people have signed in support of auto injector funding in New Zealand, but Helen’s aiming for 10,000. Wouldn’t it be great if she got to that number during Food Allergy Awareness Week?
I urge you to sign the petition, even if you can afford to buy your auto injectors every 12 – 18 months, because there are many New Zealanders out there who can’t.
If you suspect your child has food allergies, see your GP. They will be able to arrange allergy testing or will refer you to a specialist. Keep a food diary, noting foods eaten and any symptoms and take pictures of any reactions. Take this information with you to the doctor.
If your child experiences coughing, wheezing, swelling, hives and/or vomiting after eating, please call an ambulance. It may be a serious reaction and adrenaline will be required.
For more information about food allergies and Food Allergy Awareness Week, see www.allergy.org.nz.
To join Allergy Support NZ, an online allergy support group visit here.
To sign Wellington Mum Helen Richardson’s Campaign for Auto Injector funding here.
Munch mum Rebecca Oliver our Allergy specialist.