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February 21, 2012

Living With(out?) a Peanut Allergy


When L was barely 2 years old, he ate peanut butter toast for about the fiftieth time and developed hives around his mouth. A few months later he ran to me from across the room at a New Year’s Eve party, his mouth and tongue swelling after eating a snack-sized Crispy Crunch bar. His pediatrician referred us to an allergist who confirmed our worst fear: a peanut allergy, potentially anaphylactic.
Our lives were turned upside-down. We bought Epipens (at $100 a piece- thank goodness for drug plans). We educated ourselves and learned how to read labels carefully. We ordered a Medic-Alert bracelet for him to wear everyday. We constantly made decisions about what was or was not safe for our little guy to eat. Dinners at restaurants became fraught with potential danger from cross-contamination and we learned how to speak to servers and managers about it. Traveling outside of North America became too great a risk for us to take. Just flying in an airplane gave us reason to worry.
I had to learn how to bake when I realized that most birthday cakes made at bakeries could not be guaranteed nut-free. I figured out the allergen-labeling policy of major manufacturers. Did you know that Canada does not yet have a law requiring companies to label for potential allergens? (It comes into effect in August, 2012). Did you know, for example, that Loblaw does not have a policy about labeling potential allergens in their products? I had to learn to call the 1-800 numbers for these companies and asking if specific products may contain any traces of peanuts.
When L started school, we had to figure out how the school was going to keep him safe. Thankfully, the teachers and administration have always been supportive and the Toronto District School Board has an anaphylaxis policy. L learned to wear his Epipen when he started JK and we have Epipens stored in the classroom and school office as well as in my purse. 
L has been very good about his allergy. He grumbles from time to time about wearing his Epipen but asks questions about the food he is offered and has no problem refusing something he isn’t sure about. That’s not bad considering much of what he has to refuse is candy or a baked treat!
We have negotiated play-dates and sleepover camps and birthday parties. I am eternally grateful to parents who aren’t intimidated or put out by his allergy, who ask the appropriate questions and take the necessary precautions. Just knowing that you care so much about his safety makes me want to hug you.
When L was 6 years old, he was retested. He was so hopeful. I could see the dismay on his face as the hive developed on his arm where the peanut serum was placed. I reminded him that nothing would change and to stay positive. His peanut allergy had remained but he had not developed any new allergies nor had he had any accidental exposure. His chances of outgrowing the peanut allergy were between 20% and 50% as a result. We were instructed to come back in 3 years time.
This afternoon, we visited the allergist again. My big boy (almost 9 years old) didn’t have to sit on my lap this time nor did I have to hold his arm down and instruct him not to scratch. She tested both saline and a histamine as well as peanut serum. And the peanut serum did not react! She placed actual peanut butter on his arm and did another skin test....and nothing. Now he has a requisition for a blood test and if that is negative, they will conduct an oral challenge in a hospital setting, feeding him actual peanut butter (likely this summer).
It all seems a bit surreal. We’ve learned to just live our lives around this allergy. It is our day-to-day reality. To think that in a few months there is a decent chance that we can eat out without worry, go to an ice-cream parlour, buy goods at a bakery or even eat peanut butter in our own house... I could cry with the relief over the thought of it. I’ll try not to get too excited and hopeful lest L sense it and become potentially disappointed. But I have all of my fingers and toes crossed!
Many thanks to organizations such as Anaphylaxis Canada, Medic-Alert, the Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group and publications such as Allergic Living.You have made our lives easier by giving us the information we need.


Image © Martin Maun | Dreamstime.com

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