Coping with children who have a nut allergy

A Mother’s Story

Jillian Lane and Kay knight are both mothers of children with nut allergies. Jillian has three children, of who two have been diagnosed with the potentially fatal nut allergy; she is waiting for an appointment to assess her third son. Kay has two children; her 5-year-old son also suffers with the allergy.

“I discovered that my eldest son, Andrew was allergic to nuts by giving him a peanut butter sandwich when he was just over a year old. I had been looking to broaden his diet and had read in a children’s recipe book that nuts were a good source of protein and decided to introduce him to a new taste. Within a few seconds of him trying the sandwich he started to cough. I thought at first that “it had gone down the wrong way” and started to tap him on the back. After a few more seconds by which point he was clearly in discomfort I quickly took him out of his highchair. He seemed to be trying to be sick and was going very red in the face. Although I had not heard of allergies to nuts I suspected that this was what it may be as both my sister and I suffer with various food allergies. I called the Doctor and as we lived in a rural part of the country had to take him to the Surgery where the Doctor who had been on his rounds met me. I had to put Andrew into his car seat for the 20-minute drive. During this time his face continued to swell and he remained bright red, obviously struggling to breathe. At the surgery, they administered anti-histamine, which seemed to stabilise the reaction. However, he remained very swollen for the next three days and his entire body looked as though he had a bad case of sunburn. He slept for most of these three days.

After the shock of dealing with a frightening situation I tried to find out more about the cause of the reaction, and more importantly how to avoid problems in the future. However, it was not immediately obvious where to turn for information. The Doctor Surgery, whilst recognising and dealing promptly with the initial reaction were not overly helpful with what to do next.

About 18 months later our second son was given a peanut butter sandwich at nursery school (despite being asked not to, in case he too was allergic). I was telephoned to say that Richard was very unwell and needed to see a Doctor. The procedure was repeated and although Richard’s reaction was not so immediate or quite so violent it was distressing for all of us. Whilst I thought it very bad luck to have not one but two children with the same allergy I have since been informed that it is common to have siblings suffer with the allergy. We are now waiting for an appointment to find out if Michael, our third son, now five is also allergic. However, if children can avoid the allergen for the first five years of their life there is a greater likelihood that they will develop a resistance to it.

Richard has since been diagnosed as having very bad Eczema, Asthma and numerous allergies, including other nuts, egg whites, allergies to horses, cats etc., I am now aware that allergies are more prevalent in families where there is a history of Eczema, Asthma, Hay Fever and/or allergies. Both my husband and I have a history of all of these things, although not nuts.

When both boys started school aged 4 and 3 respectively the Headmaster wanted to discuss all the implications as he had not had a pupil at his school with this problem before, he now had two! As a trained Chef he was knowledgeable and helpful and checked supply sources, changing these where necessary to ensure the children did not encounter the allergen whilst eating their school lunches. He also went further by writing to all parents to ask them not to send nut products into school for breaks, explaining while it was so necessary. He also insisted that the boys bring Adrenaline injections to school in case of an emergency. Even lessons were put under scrutiny, especially those in cooking and science.

It was at this point that I was put in touch with the Anaphylaxis Campaign who offered a great deal of advice and support. For further information contact their helpline on: 01252 542029

They advised that it was vital for the boys to have adrenaline injections (epi-pens) and armed with this information I went back to the Doctor to insist that I needed four. (Two for each children, one each to be kept at school and one each for home and when out and about). The Doctor was not convinced that this was necessary but after having spoken to both the Headmaster and Anaphylaxis Campaign I was adamant that this was what was needed. Eventually my persistence paid dividends but not without being made to feel as if I was being an over protective mother.

Our lives have obviously changed since the discovery of the allergies and will continue to change, as the children grow older. The most important aspect is that of communication, both with the child and others who will at times are responsible for their care. It is vital to draw attention to the serious nature of the allergy but not to alarm. Children are very easily frightened and this is often a difficult balance to achieve.

We often do the weekly shop together and now the children are old enough to read they help decide which items go into the trolley and those that do not. They get very cross when they find things that they like often contain nut warnings such as “may contain nuts” or “this product has been made in a factory that handles nuts”. Particular problem areas are biscuits, cakes, and confectionery although every item has to be scrutinized as the warning often appears on the most unlikely candidates.

When visiting friends, or attending parties we always discuss the position with the host. Sometimes they are very concerned at being responsible for the child but I always give contact numbers and leave their medication with them. As the children establish friendships their parents often think ahead, but it is best to always remind. The children must also learn not to accept new foods without enquiring whether they contain nuts, explaining why this information is so important. However, depending on the age and nature of the child this can seem a bit daunting. It is also particularly difficult when eating out and whilst abroad.

With these problems in mind and after discovering that my business partner, Kay’s son also had the allergy we decided to try and do something practical to help the children as they went through their daily lives. As retails consultants and clothing buyers by profession we have developed a small range of products that include tee shirts with fun, colourful graphics for both boys and girls, with slogans such as “Have a Nut Free Day”. Baseball caps with a “Nut Free Zone” slogan, stickers including stickers for lunch boxes and a totebag. The products are available by Mail Order, visit or telephone 01480 869244 for a leaflet. We are also planning to extend the range to include other useful items and also to develop the theme for other allergies.

We are making a donation from every sale to the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

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