My 14-month-old feverishly scratched at his face. Huge white blisters exploded across his chubby baby cheeks. His lips swelled. He spit the food out of his mouth. He vomited. After a trip to the E.R., we received the diagnosis—my baby had life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies.
So began a new phase of our life—a constant campaign to keep our son alive. A campaign complicated by many people’s lack of understanding.
Food allergies are on the rise. You know someone who has them. So what can others do to help? Overall the answer is simple—show God’s love.
Please be kind in your interactions with the parents and children dealing with food allergies. Families dealing with food allergies didn’t ask for this—but they have to deal with it on a bite-to-bite basis. Put yourself into their shoes—go one day thinking about every item you put in your mouth or on your body. That hand soap—has almond oil in it. We can’t use it. That popcorn—made in a factory with peanuts and tree nuts. We can’t enjoy it. That dog across the street—eats peanut butter as a treat. We can’t pet him. This is the reality of many food allergy families.
Here are a few practical ideas to show your Christian love and concern:
- Keep kids with allergies from harm. Check and double check ingredient labels. Even if the label stated nothing last time about a particular allergen, it may this time. Make sure things are washed up as much as possible if your church/school/family consumes the food allergen—door handles, tables, toys, kids’ faces and hands, etc. And, if a family wants to bring their own food please, don’t be offended and let them do so without guilt. That family’s first priority is the safety of their child. If they are comfortable with you, the Ladies’ Guild, or school lunch program making the food, please save the food labels for them to double check.
- Don’t leave kids, their siblings, and families out. Institute ways in your church, school, and home to serve safe foods—or to leave food out of the situation altogether. We have chosen to bring non-food toys/trinkets to school to celebrate our kids’ birthdays. It has gone over so well that one of the teachers asked all of the families this year to only bring non-food items for birthdays—even though there aren’t any food allergy kids in her room.
- Ask a lot of questions. If a food allergy individual is coming to your home, church, or school, ask, “What is the specific allergy?” Some with egg allergies are fine with cooked eggs, but not raw eggs, so baked goods would be safe. Some with peanut allergies are perfectly fine with the walnuts in the brownies you made. Check in with the families as to what is safe to eat and what is not.
- Know the signs of an allergic reaction and what to do. Have the contact information of the parents and local emergency line. Learn how to use an Epipen and do so before emergency personnel get there. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has some great resources for families, schools, and churches at foodallergy.org. Mylan (the Epipen manufacturer) even gives free Epipens to schools in case there are children who experience an unknown allergic reaction. Visit epipen4schools.com.
Be a blessing to these families. Little gestures let these kids and their families know you care about them no matter the setting.
Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, have four children. They live in Milwaukee, Wis.