Food Allergies Get A Mascot This Halloween

Our kids spend most of October in their Halloween costumes. Sometimes, they pretend to be their characters (Transformers, this year) and other times, they pretend they are trick-or-treating. We make pumpkin-shaped, peanut/tree nut/milk/egg-free cookies. They paint pumpkins. (No carving them, after seeing what they did to Charlie’s arms.) They draw ghosts and jack-o’-lanterns, bring us spooky books to read, and look for Halloween decorations when we walk around the neighborhood. As Max says: “Halloween? Thumbs up.”

Image courtesy: FARE

Image courtesy: FARE

They hardly mention candy, though. Sure, they get loads of it when they hit the streets on Halloween, but the treats they look forward to are plastic spider rings, pencils, tiny rubber snakes, and other random goodies. That’s what they get when they turn in their bags of trick-or-treat candy at the end of the night. They also get a few candies that we have personally bought and vetted, but it’s not the highlight of the evening. The kids have a good time and Charlie is safe. It rocks.

The-Teal-Pumpkin-Project-5

Image courtesy: FARE

This year, we’re adding a new tradition, thanks to FARE and FACET. We’re painting a pumpkin teal and putting out a sign that will let parents know we have non-food treats available. It will also help get the word out about food allergies. We only hand out non-food treats, but many families who are taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project will be handing out candy and offering non-food treats to trick-or-treaters who request them.

What makes the teal pumpkin useful is that when we see one, we’ll know that we can ask for non-food treats. That means that more of the treats Charlie and Max collect will be treats they can enjoy. It adds to the fun for them and doesn’t change anything for kids who don’t have food allergies – especially at homes that offer candy and non-food treats (from separate bowls).

I really like this idea and I’m glad it’s getting so much love from the press. When it comes to educating people about food allergies,there’s still a long way to go, so some of the comments on these news pieces are a little disheartening, but most people seem to think the teal pumpkin project is a great plan. Hopefully, those who think it’s an attack on an American tradition will see that no kids are being excluded – they’re being included. Everybody gets to have good, safe, fun.

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Mystery Reaction

Trying new (to Charlie) processed foods is always tricky, but usually ends well. Recently, though he popped. That’s the way it goes.

Here’s how we introduce Charlie to a new processed food: By the time it gets to our house, we’ve already scoured the ingredients list (we don’t keep food he’s allergic to in the house). But we don’t trust the ingredients list alone. We start feeding it to him by giving him a single, tiny bite. He waits 10 minutes and, if he’s not displaying symptoms of a reaction, he gets a slightly larger bite. We continue until we’re comfortable that he’s OK with the food and can eat large bites. This is similar to the food challenges we do at our allergist’s office. It’s a good way to catch a problem food early, but it’s rough on Charlie’s patience. He’s three.

This time, we found some veggie popsicles that looked fine, ingredients-wise. He loves the fruit version of these, so we started our home challenge with one after dinner one night. Bam. He popped.

We’re always read for this – we were at the hospital nine minutes later. When we walked up to triage, I said “I have a three-year old with-” and the nurse immediately waived her hand in front of her face and said “an allergic reaction, I see. Come on in.” I really love the staff at our hospital.

Charlie Reaction

Charlie sporting hives. He’s feeling chipper, though.

Luckily, steroids did the trick, and no epi was needed. He was lucid and even happy the whole ride to the hospital, which made the ride much easier for all of us. When you’re trying to determine if your kid is headed into anaphylaxis, a boatload of hives on his face will make you more than a little tense.

What triggered it? We don’t know, and that’s always frustrating. But that’s just the way it goes with food allergies: you’re always worrying, and you’re always watching, you always know how far you are from the hospital and you’re always bristling with epinephrine injectors.

Food Allergy Challenge: Peanuts

This kid tolerates peanut butter.

This kid tolerates peanut butter.

Charlie tolerated peanut butter at his food challenge today. No, he shouldn’t eat it again. But, it’s not lethal to him. MK and I are so happy, we could pop.

After being off his allergy meds for several days, Charlie walked into the doctor’s office, hopped onto the little bench, and downed 10 consecutively larger portions of peanut butter, starting with a portion so small he couldn’t even taste it, and ending with a sizable bite. We waited 10 minutes between each portion, and I (and the nurses and doctor) monitored him closely. The whole thing lasted an hour and a half, but it felt like 20 minutes to me.

Charlie’s face didn’t display any hives during the test, but his arm got a bit red at the inside elbow and a tiny hive appeared on the other arm. The doctor also skin- tested him for environmental stuff (he’s allergic to mold) and tree nuts. He’s allergic to everything except hazelnut. (We initially thought that opened the door to Nutella, but it contains whey.)

At this point, the doc says, the peanut butter appears to exacerbate Charlie’s eczema. The doctor thinks Charlie will outgrow peanut by his next food challenge, which is in the Spring. But, for now, we’re happy just knowing that he’s not likely to experience anaphylaxis from accidentally eating something that has peanuts in it.

Still on the anaphylaxis list are egg (confirmed), dairy (confirmed), and tree nut (possibly). Knocking peanuts off the list is a huge win, and gives us hope that the others will be outgrown, too.

Charlie’s First Smoothie

IMG_0231Charlie’s food allergies mean that making a smoothie with yogurt and milk is out of the question. But today I saw So Delicious coconut yogurt at the grocery store and the ingredients looked fine for him. I worried about the starter culture, though. Was it dairy-related? Each yogurt has the company’s 866 number right on it, so I called and in minutes was talking to a So Delicious person, who assured me that everything is plant-derived, and that the company knows its customers often have allergies and it takes that seriously.

How awesome.

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I tested Charlie on it, a little sip every ten minutes, and he was fine. “I want a smoothie. What’s a smoothie?” He said.

So, today we made smoothies and Charlie flipped. Some coconut yogurt, some coconut milk, a package of frozen fruit, and blender with the ice chopper mode, and suddenly Charlie was having his first smoothie. He loved it. He said “We need to show Mommy and let her have a taste. But I drink all of it.” And he drank all of his, most of Max’s (hey, you snooze you lose) and tried unsuccessfully to gank mine. I’m glad he gets this new, flavor-packed treat.

Scared Eggless

A couple nights ago, Charlie sat down at the table for dinner, looked at his plate, and pushed it away, saying, “Dis make me sick. I go to da hospital.” We told him that it wouldn’t make him sick, using that high-and-soft tone you use when you’re trying to reassure someone, but freaking out on the inside. I don’t want my kid to be afraid that the food he’s about to put in his mouth might turn out to be poison. But that’s the risk he’s taking every time. MK and I are vigilant and we cook meals that are as safe as mere mortals can verify, but allergens have gotten through our defenses a couple times, thanks to the cross-contamination crapshoot.

I’ve also had two nightmares this week about Charlie eating foods he’s allergic to. In one, he was well into an oversized bowl of vanilla ice cream. In another, he was just finishing off an entire glass of milk. In both, I realized that epinephrine probably wouldn’t save him now, and then I woke up.

October 4th is his next food challenge. If that is successful, it would go a long way towards making me worry less. Actually, probably not.

No Jersey Mike’s For You

A long time ago, MK and I went through our kitchen and tossed or donated every food that Charlie is allergic to. We also disposed of any foods that were made on shared equipment (or in the same facility as) his allergens. We donated any cookware that struck us as possibly having traces of allergens on them (the blender went, for example). Since then, our house has been Charlie-safe. We cook only foods that he can eat.

Once in a while, we’ll get take out when Charlie is asleep and eat it downstairs – often the garage. Then we clean it up, toss everything, wash our hands, etc. So there’s your backstory.

Today, we went to the Children’s Museum and parked a little farther away than usual. When we got back to the car, I realized we were right in front of Jersey Mike’s. I thought: Heck, I’ll just take the kids in, they won’t touch the sandwich, it’ll be in a bag, and I can eat it after they go down for a nap.

We got as far as the line when it occurred to me that I’d be holding Charlie’s hand with my left hand and a bag of poison with my right. And, of course, he was asking me if he could have a sandwich, too. And so was Max.  We turned around, went to the car, and when we got home I made us delicious sandwiches and salads. Now he’s sleeping, safe and sound.