Monday, February 9, 2015

Allergy Awareness: Please Help Be A Shining Light

Next week we are heading to the pediatric allergy clinic in Iowa City with our little guy.  It's been a few years since we've taken him to the allergist so we are all a bit anxious about what is to come. Since his allergy is severe, we do not have to take him to be re-tested each year as it is unlikely much will have changed.  It sounds strange, but I am relieved we only have to do this every few years.

When testing for allergies, the doctor performs a skin test where they put a liquid substance on his skin and watch for a reaction.  At our first appointment, back when he was 20 months old, they had to wipe it off soon after application.  The reaction to the peanut quickly spread up his back, where it was originally placed, all the way to his ears.  They generally wait ten minutes:  this took no longer than 2.

A few years later we participated in a family allergy study at the Children's Hospital in Chicago. They opted to not even do the skin test since his first reaction was so bad.  Instead, they just completed the blood test and I was so thankful he didn't have to experience it again.

At our last appointment, the allergist applied the substance to his forearm.  Within minutes he had a huge raised reaction.  When it continued to expand to the size of a ping pong ball, we asked for it to be wiped off.  No fun for our little guy.

Unfortunately, peanuts are not his only allergy.  Several tree nuts and shell fish are also on the list. We will see how Iowa City will want to proceed.  These appointments are hard, as they cause much discomfort for him and I know he feels much anxiety about the process.  Heck, I do, and they're not touching me!

Visiting the allergist every few years is a minute part of his care.  Keeping track of any change, even if it is for the worse, helps us manage his allergy on a daily basis to the best of our ability.  We also always hold on to some hope these appointments will lead us to an opportunity where he can be treated for his allergies.  There are many trials going on all over our nation and worldwide, but all in an experimental stage and not readily available to everyone.

These appointments also confirm, from a medical standpoint, that his allergy is real and something to be taken very seriously.  As silly as it sounds, there are many people in this nation who believe food allergies are made up.  They scoff at the idea of nut-free classrooms and schools, imply parents of children with allergies are being overcautious, and make tasteless jokes about people suffering from this serious, and potentially deadly, problem.  It sickens and infuriates me.

I am not one to be shushed on this matter.  In fact, I am quite outspoken.  I am willing to educate people and advocate for not only my son, but others in his position.  When it comes to life-threatening food allergies, ignorance is not bliss and when I come in contact with people unwilling to understand the seriousness of his condition, I press harder and bring the level of education and awareness to a whole other level.

While I don't expect those who haven't walked in our shoes to fully understand, I do hope they are willing to look outside of their own desires and see the big picture.  It is time for the insensitivity in this nation to stop and for the narcissistic behavior to end.  Food allergies are real, the rate of people affected continues to rise, and people can (and have) died from them.  It is no laughing matter and those who drag their feet and do not accept the seriousness of this condition frustrate me.

If you've made it this far, thanks for staying with me.  I am going to challenge you to be a light in the life of people who must manage this condition diligently each day.  Next time you hear someone complaining about nut-free snack lists, classrooms, or activities, speak up.  Be a voice of support and empathy.  Positive influences outside of those living with a food allergy are needed.  If each person who complained was met with one of support for these children and their families, it would begin to make a difference.

My son is an amazing young boy who happens to have life-threatening food allergies.  He is kind, loving, creative, and thoughtful.  He should not be defined by his food allergy and excluded from activities because of it.  He should live in a society of acceptance and one of empathy and kindness, rather than one of hostility and cruelty.

We have been blessed with a wonderful support system of family and friends.  My son's peers have rarely viewed the modifications made for his allergy negatively.  Sadly, at times, it has been the parents who have struggled.  Since preschool, he has been blessed with peers who have been aware of the dangers of his exposure to nuts and very protective of him.  I hope, as he grows older, this continues.  I pray the lights in the children continue to shine and the next generation is filled with kindness and acceptance of those who may be a bit different than them.



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