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By: Melissa Enos | AFAA Editorial Contributor
When you think of what you fear your child getting a hold of, what comes to mind?
Quick: Think of the question from a parent's perspective – what is dangerous to eat? When you think of what you fear your child getting a hold of, what comes to mind? For a food allergy parent, the answers might surprise you. Back in the early days of having a mobile toddler and the challenges that come with this milestone, I learned this lesson in the most interesting way. It was easy to protect my kid before he could crawl or walk. The only things he could put in his mouth were those that I put within his reach, right? It was great! Then he discovered the joys of movement, and…well…every parent knows the adventures that come next.

            We all know about the marbles, the building blocks, and anything else smaller than the diameter of a toilet paper roll. Being a good parent, I thought about those things as well. Maybe I was a little bit obsessive about it all, but better safe than sorry was my line of thinking. The funny thing is that even my obsessive nature didn't manage to stop all possible threats. One cold and rainy afternoon (translation: an afternoon with two young children bored out of their minds and wreaking havoc around every corner of the house), I finally managed to settle them down with a table full of paper and crayons. My little guy, being 2 ½ years old at the time, couldn't wait to follow his big sister's lead in creating a masterpiece. You can probably guess that I ended up pulling a crayon from his mouth not five minutes later. No big deal. At least I had to deal with that and not the two of them getting on each others' nerves.

            I never predicted what happened next, however. Just like one of those movies where the crazy dramatic action sequence happens in slow motion, I noticed my son reaching for a random cheese cracker that had been left on the table at some point. I practically dove over the table in an effort to reach the kid before that cracker made it to his mouth, thoughts of his severe reactions to milk products going through my head in torturous detail. Surely the characters from The Matrix movies would have been proud of me. Even better, I did manage to keep him from eating the cracker. I was so pleased with myself that I hardly even noticed the ache in my hip from having rammed it into the table when I landed.

            This was, for me, the moment when I realized that I truly am living a different kind of life now. I guess I kind of knew it before then to the point that I just made sure to give him only foods and drinks that were safe for him, but this is when the reality of it being much more than that actually hit me. Food allergies are so much more than just something I think about at feeding time. They're part of my family's life in every aspect starting with playtime, but I knew that soon enough it would be preschool, birthday parties, friends' houses, school, and everything else he might want to do. It was all suddenly as overwhelming as the day we got the list of allergies that affect my son to this day, and even more memorable to me than the actual diagnosis day. It was the day I realized this was a whole new way of life – not at all the one I had planned on for my children. When my son was first diagnosed at the age of 6 months, we were told there was an 85% chance he would outgrow everything by his third birthday. At the time of The Great Cheese Cracker Debacle, he was only 2 ½ years old. Maybe that was when I realized that things wouldn't be okay with less than 6 months to go before his birthday. I was living in a type of "temporary problem" denial that was shattered one afternoon when I dove over a table for a snack that's found on and under car seats all over America.

            Hard as that day was, it was also kind of liberating. I was finally free to put together a new life for my son and family – one that is safer, more realistic, and more inclusive of his unique needs. I was finally free to move forward and accept things as they are without the shadow of denial clouding my vision. I'll admit it's still tough sometimes. I wish the sight of a popsicle could make my little boy happy and not anxious, and I wish our entire kitchen didn't have to become a hazmat zone whenever someone spills a glass of milk. I wish this wasn't the reality of our life, but it is. It is our reality, and until it isn't, I'm finally at peace with this life.

            Moving forward in this new year, I resolve to take my acceptance one step further. The food that my son can have will no longer just be what we provide to keep him safe – it will become a central and integrated part of our entire family's diet. Our meals will be those that all of us can have and we will move on from simply providing a separate meal for my son. I guess that means a new adventure in learning to cook, but it's a good next step to take. Acceptance took quite a while in my case, but it's a great feeling, and a great opportunity to move past the fear and denial of those pesky cheese crackers.
 
 
By: Amy Martin | AFAA Editorial Contributor
On Facebook I found OIT and peanut allergy groups.  I read the good stories and the bad. I looked at pictures of children who had previously been admitted to the hospital due to accidental peanut exposure, happily pop a peanut m&m in their mouth. I saw kids with life threatening dairy allergies eat pizza and ice cream. Every photo made me cry. I could see the potential. I felt hope for the first time in a long time. 
“No! I don’t want to do it! Please don’t make me eat a peanut!” shouted my teary-eyed six-year-old son. I had not even gone into detail about what OIT entailed, but he gathered enough information to draw his own conclusions from what little I had explained.   

Since his anaphylactic reaction from a restaurant sandwich, I had been researching treatment options non-stop for my son’s peanut allergy. Of the few therapies available, this one fit our family the best. Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is the introduction of minuscule amounts of an allergen into the patient’s system, through ingestion, building up tolerance over time. There have been several studies and trials involving OIT over the years, but I wanted a private practice doctor. They seemed to customize the program to the child and go a little slower, thereby minimizing allergic reactions.    

On Facebook I found OIT and peanut allergy groups.  I read the good stories and the bad. I looked at pictures of children who had previously been admitted to the hospital due to accidental peanut exposure, happily pop a peanut m&m in their mouth. I saw kids with life threatening dairy allergies eat pizza and ice cream. Every photo made me cry. I could see the potential. I felt hope for the first time in a long time.   

First, I needed my son’s participation. Then, we had to work out the logistics since there are no board certified allergists offering this treatment in the state of Arizona. We knew we would need to fly for appointments or temporarily move, neither of which was ideal. One of the closest allergists was in Utah, Dr. Jones of Rocky Mountain Allergy.  He regularly commented in the OIT Facebook group and seemed to have a lot of patients in the group having great successes with treatment. He was also compassionate to what we as parents of kids with food allergies go through on a daily basis. I could tell he was someone we could trust with such an important job.   

I went to the Facebook group for advice about getting my son on board with treatment. I can only imagine how hard it is for these kids to purposefully eat their food allergen after avoiding it for so long. It is their poison. One mom of a patient who recently graduated from the program posted a video of her daughter completing her final challenge, eating 24 peanuts at once, after months and months of slow and steady up-dosing, and then launching into a victory dance. I played the video for my son who watched intently and in silence. He must have hit replay a half dozen times. Finally, he looked up at me and said, “I want to do this.”  From that point forward, it was on me to figure out how to make it work because he was more than on board, he was dead set on this. He was ready to stop being scared. He was ready to eat peanuts.
 
 
By: Sarah Plato, Community Outreach & Development Coordinator | North Scottsdale | AFAA
"Dr. Sharma: It is true that some asthma inhalers contain  lactose, and as a result, contain trace amounts of associated milk protein...." Allergic Living Magazine
Thank God for Facebook. Today I was looking through my "news feed" which previously I thought was a silly name for a category for friends' complaints and annoyances of the day, until today when I stumbled on this article by Dr. Sharma about dairy in dry inhalers used for asthma. Well, I stopped in my tracts and read this carefully as my son has an anaphylactic allergy to dairy and has mild asthma treated by inhalers. I found this amazing that some dry inhalers have lactose (milk sugar)! I'm reading on and the article doesn't name which ones list dairy as an ingredient so I read on to the comments left by readers and found a name my son uses- Pulmicort! Thankfully my son uses
the nebulizer formulation which apparently does not contain milk- phew! Still, what on Earth would make me think "oh yea don't forget to check for milk in that inhaler." Another reader also commented on finding peanut as a contaminant in one of her inhalers... Scary business! So now I have learned a new lesson..."call every drug company for every drug my allergic child is given- every time."