In January of 2017, Shaun accompanied me on our weekly trip to the grocery store. As we made our way through the produce section, we began our usual conversation about what foods are Shaun Safe and what foods are not. (Although Shaun was only two years old I believe these conversations were/are critical to helping him learn about navigating his allergies.)
Me: Shaun, what are these?
Shaun: Kiwi, I’m allergic.
Me: Great! And what did momma just put in this bag?
Shaun: Cucumbers, I love cucumbers. They are Shaun safe!
Me: I love cucumbers too. Okay now, what do you see over there?
Shaun: Peanuts and Tree Nuts! Not Safe! I am allergic!
A woman in the produce section with us overheard our conversation. She stopped me to ask about what Shaun’s allergies were. I proceed to share Shaun’s allergy list with her. She seemed surprisingly unfazed by the long list of things we avoid, but I was grateful that she showed an interest in food allergies.
What happened next though threw me for a loop!
She continued the conversation by telling me that it was a shame that Shaun had missed the newest development in the medical food allergy world. She wanted me to know that it had been all over the news and social media that “early introduction” to allergens such as peanuts would prevent food allergies.
I smiled at her and thanked her for the information. I know that this lady was trying to be kind, that her ignorance was due to lack of experience and knowledge, but at that moment, I felt alone, misunderstood, angry, and sad. It bubbled up all the emotions that I should have done more for my child, even though I knew that I had done everything I possibly could!
Okay, let’s break this down.
- I was aware of the new guidelines that the NIAID had adopted regarding the early introduction of peanuts.
- I was aware of how headlines around this gave an inaccurate picture of the depth and details within the actual guidelines. (This conversation was confirming that)
- I was aware that although the NIAID was releasing the guideline now in 2017, Shaun’s allergist recommended early introduction in 2015; however, Shaun was not eligible!
For the record, according to the guidelines Shaun’s eczema would have put him in the high-risk category for a peanut allergy. As the guidelines suggested, we talked with all the doctors caring for Shaun and decided that we would introduce peanut immediately as long as he showed no signs of reaction based on both skin tests & IgE blood work. Unfortunately, he was already reactive to the peanut proteins, so strict avoidance was recommended until he is old enough for us to consider immunotherapy (which is a post for another day but something we hope to take advantage of!)
Below are some ideas to consider if you ever find yourself on either side of this interaction.
To anyone, not living with allergies, who find themselves in the position of the lady in the store:
- Please be careful not to think that I, or any allergy, parent, could have avoided this allergy by exposing my child younger. If I could have … I would have, but it wasn’t an option for us.
- Read more than just the headlines! Food Allergies are complicated, and there is often critical information that is found in the body of the article or in the research that provides a complete understanding.
- If you engage a food allergy person to listen to them. You will learn! (If grocery store lady asked me if I heard the new guidelines or what I thought of them she would have learned something new!)
- It is always safe to offer a statement of support, hope, or praise! (The grocery store lady would have made my day if she told me she was impressed that I was teaching my son how to take care of himself!)
To anyone, living with allergies, who find themselves confronted by the lady in the store:
- Take a deep breath!
- Assess if you can use this moment as an opportunity to share and spread awareness.
- Remember how little you knew about allergy life before you were forced to live it. Think about how long it took you to learn it well. Not all people live with food allergies, and unless you do, you can’t understand one hundred percent of it. So be informative and kind! This will help grow awareness and a positive name for the allergy community at large!
- You will encounter people like this at times, and it can weigh you down emotionally. Rely on the people in your life who DO understand; Allow them to be a balance point!
- You are doing a great job! And if you don’t have someone to tell you that email us! We know the value of support from people who live this life and want to share that with you too!
Living well with food allergies is really about keeping perspective and understanding that a lot of the ignorance towards our community comes from lack of information and exposure. So let’s share information and be open to letting people see our life with a hope that in time, people’s grocery store conversations will sound different than the one I had that winter day in 2017.
To keeping perspective,
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