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Discovering My Daughter’s Nut Allergy

Nut Allergies

It was dinnertime on the evening of January 25th, 2002, when my then two-year-old daughter suddenly started screaming. I couldn’t get her to stop. My husband puller her out of her highchair and tried to console her, to no avail. Within a matter of five minutes, her little face was puffed up to the size of a balloon and her eyes were swollen shut. She was gasping for air.

I freaked. I always thought I would be a mom who would be strong in the face of an emergency, but I freaked. It was my husband who calmly, but sternly told me to call his mom. We were inexperienced; we didn’t know what was going on. I quickly gave her an adult dose of Benadryl (not advised, I just didn’t know what else to do), and put her in the bath with baking soda to try to relieve the hives now popping up all over her little body.
And that is how it started.

That is how we found out our little girl is allergic to nuts. At first we thought it was just cashews. Her allergist did a prick test (where they prick your back and rub a small, diluted amount of oil on the spots to see what the offending allergy is). The area where he put cashew oil (diluted to 1/100th of what he normally uses) blew up the size of a half dollar.  He applied the oil and told me he’d be back in 10 minutes to check the reaction. In five minutes I was down the hall calling him to get back in here. My daughter had hives all up and down her back. He looked at me and said, “She’s definitely allergic to cashews, keep her away from all nuts.”

Thus began our life with a nut allergy. Through the years we have learned that her allergy is to all tree nuts: pistachios, hazelnuts and walnuts are the worst, followed by brazil nuts, pecans and a long list of others. Thankfully, peanuts are not on the list (they are in the legume aka: bean family). Today her allergies to tree nuts is so severe, she has blood taken once a year to test against different nut oils so we can stay on top of it. We hope that someday she will grow out of this, but sadly we have been told that she will not. This is one of those allergies that will last forever.
Now our drawers are filled with EpiPens, Benadryl tablets, emergency contact letters, lists of offending allergens. Every single year we have a meeting with the school teachers, lunch ladies, principal, vice-principal, secretary and district nurse to go over EpiPen training, what to look for if she is having a reaction. There are four medical packets at the school: one in her classroom, the lunchroom, the emergency evacuation classroom bag and one in the office. There are pictures of her in the office, nurse’s room and lunchroom. She has never eaten a school lunch. She brings a “safe” lunch from home everyday. There is a special bright red folder that accompanies the teachers “Substitute Teaching Plan.” It’s a lot, we’re determined to be as safe as we can be. So far, at school, it’s been enough. We don’t view this as an inconvenience, it’s our life.
Since that first night, she has only had one severe reaction where she needed the EpiPen. She’s nine now, so we think these are pretty good odds. We were at the Breast Cancer Walk and she was given a cookie with a walnut in it, one which I didn’t check. The one time I wasn’t diligent.

This is a whole other story in itself, one where I was finally able to be a strong mom in an emergency. I always wondered if I would know when it was time to give her the shot. Believe me, I knew. I had no doubt as her lips turned purple and she went limp in my arms. It’s a story that still makes me cry. It was one of those moments that caused my adrenaline to go pump wildly until the end of the day. Once we were home from the emergency room and I looked back on the day’s events, I started shaking and crying. She has had several small reactions that resulted in hives and her being uncomfortable, but at least during those reactions, she was breathing.

I am thankful this isn’t worse. I can handle checking ingredients on every pack of food we buy. I can handle avoiding all bakeries, its better for my hips anyway. I can handle having play dates at my house all the time because I know it’s a safe environment. I’m okay with the fact that she can’t go to daycare or summer camps. I do a lot of EpiPen training. My close friends don’t think twice when I come through their house and remove things from their pantry if we are visiting. I have a very small, tight network of trained, caring people who can watch her if I need a baby sitter. Restaurants make special meals for us.

All of this is okay, I definitely can handle all it. I can even handle the moms who think I’m overreacting, the people who say, “Just give her some to get her body used to it,” the ignorant people. 

What I wouldn’t be able to handle is loosing my daughter to a nut.

Author: Kelly

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