The Allergy Mums Club stories are a chance for allergy parents to share all that they have learned with other parents. Here Hollie talks about two very different experiences when discovering her sons had allergies. She provides valuable insight and advice for others going through the same thing.
Hollie, Oliver and Ethan’s story
I’m Hollie, and I have two sons – Oliver, aged 9, and Ethan, aged 4. Oliver is allergic to tree nuts (specifically brazil, pistachio & cashew nuts), tree pollen, dust mite & cats. Ethan is allergic to milk, tree nuts, peanuts and has Oral Allergy Syndrome to tomatoes. He has outgrown an egg allergy, and we suspect he is allergic to cats and dogs.
Can you tell us about your journey to getting a diagnosis?
Oliver had severe eczema as a baby but allergies were not mentioned or investigated as a cause. At 2 years old he had a reaction with swollen eyes and hives. We weren’t able to identify what had caused it. He was treated with steroid in hospital and monitored. There was no support to identify the allergen.
A few months later I gave him the tiniest end of a brazil nut at home. He immediately suffered swollen eyes, hives and was clawing at his mouth. He was blue-lighted to hospital, steroid was administered and he was monitored for a few hours. Subsequent skin prick tests identified his allergens.
We manage his allergies through food exclusion, and he has anti-histamine and epipens to treat any reaction.
We discovered Ethan’s allergies at the first moments of baby weaning. He was breastfed successfully (and I was consuming dairy). However the first time he ate baby porridge he had a hive reaction and was clearly in distress. He was treated with antihistamine at home. We were told to exclude dairy and continue weaning, but he had many many more hive reactions to other foods.
Weaning was really challenging. I suspected allergies to a long list of foods and was therefore excluding many things. There was little support. The doctors didn’t want to do skin prick testing due to his age, so this continued on for the most part of his first year of life. Eventually I managed to get skin prick testing and see a dietitian for dietary support.
Skin prick testing showed allergies to egg, milk, tree nuts and peanuts and we exclude his allergens from his diet. Any reactions were treated with antihistamine and he only recently had epipens issued. Due to having asthma they have categorised him as at risk of anaphylaxis.
He has annual skin prick testing which identified he grew out of egg allergy at 3 years old. At 4 he was in a position to have oral food challenges at hospital to try to progress through the milk ladder (something we are currently doing).
The weeks and months after having a baby are such a vulnerable time for new mums, and allergies can make this especially challenging. How did your children’s allergies affect this period for you, and what would you say to help other mums in the same position?
It can be an incredibly hard position to be in when you identify that your child has food allergies. Nourishing a baby/young child is something we are all innately programmed to ensure we do and is so important to their development and growth.
When my youngest was reacting to what felt like every food I gave him at weaning stage it was all I could focus on. I didn’t put myself forward for promotional opportunities which came up at work because I felt too overwhelmed with trying to keep my child safe. I didn’t want to mix with other parents because they could happily feed their baby with no worries but I had the stress that he might be unwell and distressed after he ate.
Make sure you have the support you need. Don’t give up on the doctors if they turn you away the first time. Keep demanding their help and a referral for testing, and request support from a dietitian if you are excluding foods.
But, recognise that these health practitioners are short on time which means that support from other parents who have been in this position is like gold. It can give you hope when you see others who have been in your position but are now successfully managing allergies. Their experience is invaluable to help you emotionally and practically. The Instagram and blogging community of allergy parents and Facebook support groups would be my first port of call. At first I didn’t know about these online communities, I navigated it all on my own. I can just see what a difference it would have made having this source of support and information.
Remember that whilst you currently might feel like you are at the bottom of a very tall mountain struggling physically and mentally to take those first steps on what looks like a long journey ahead, you will soon be near the top looking down and appreciating how far you’ve come.
Often it’s the little things we learn day to day as parents that are most helpful for others who are new to living with allergies. Can you share 5 things you have learned which might help to make life easier for other parents?
- If you are excluding dairy, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that some items you expect to contain milk actually don’t. Look out for dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate. This is sometimes dairy free. Check ingredients of items with long-shelf lives as some of them contain palm oil instead of milk to allow these long shelf lives.
- In the same vein there will be items that contain your child’s allergen which you might not have expected. We have found milk in hand soap. Cosmetic and toiletries aren’t required to put top 14 UK allergens in bold. They might use alternative terminology such as ‘whey protein’.
- Don’t compare your position to others. We all have a tendency to compare our position to others. I’ve been there in terms of feeling pangs of jealousy when I see other parents who are chatting away over the far side of the party without a care in the world whilst their child is choosing from the buffet, whilst I’ve had to check every food package and hover over my child whilst they eat. But there are so many other things in my life that I can be grateful for. I try not to dwell on something which can’t be changed. My energy is far better focused on things that make me happy.
- Emergency food will be your best friend when you are out and about. It is always important to have safe foods for your child in your bag. If you can’t find something they can eat whilst you are out, or you don’t feel confident in the eateries ability to avoid cross-contamination you have a fall back.
- Carrying all your child’s allergy medications around can be heavy work. Instead, purchase 10 ml small medicine bottles from the pharmacy or amazon and decant some antihistamine into them. It is far lighter!
It can be really hard to think up meal and snack ideas when you are dealing with allergies, and I’m always interested in what other people are cooking to give me inspiration! What are your children’s favourite things to eat?
Having a birthday cake free from nut, milk and egg has always been challenging. Especially in the younger years when children want their favourite character theme or a cake adorned with their favourite sweet treats.
We often up-level a shop bought safe cake. We’ll “jazz the cake up” by adding some of the boy’s favourite safe treats like Creative Nature Gnawbles* (Use THEALLERGYMUMSCLUB10 for 10% off your Creative Nature shop!). Or we make it a character cake by adding cake craft figures.
You might also be interested in:
- Nut, legume, peanut allergies and more; Maya, Mihir and Vivaan’s story
- The emotional impact of allergies; Erica, Jack and Oli’s story
- Allergy diagnosis during covid; Thidaa & Atlas’s story
- Where to find free & low cost support resources for parents and carers of children with allergies
- A Parent’s guide to Adrenaline Auto Injectors
- Anaphylaxis UK
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