Up next in our ‘Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Thanks for the Grub!’ theme we have a great guest post from Louise, a Yorkshire mum of two boys.
Yesterday (21st October 2018) was National Nut Day, and whilst some of us celebrated by enjoying a bit of Peanut Butter on toast, for others, contact with nuts can have serious and potentially fatal consequences.
Here Louise talks about the day her families lives changed forever as they discovered her son Ellis (now 12) was allergic to nuts.
No Nuts Allowed by Louise
The 14th November 2011 is a date that things really changed in our family.
It was a ‘normal’ evening and we were just getting ready to do bath & bedtime for Ellis and Conor (then 5 and 2). My husband, Steven, was eating some cashew nuts. Ellis asked if he could try one. I had always been against giving the children nuts to eat due to the choking risk (I am a parent who worries – I live my life scanning rooms for danger! I turn pan handles in, move knives, scissors, trip hazards, the tiniest bead that you could only see under a microscope, that’s me!).
I decided that as cashew nuts are soft, he could try a quarter of it, but shouted in his face to ‘CHEW IT!’
He didn’t choke. But, all hell did break loose!
Ellis said his lips were burning and stinging. I told him it was just the salt as he had eczema around his mouth. His lips started to swell up, but I told myself it was just the salt irritating him. I put him in the bath to wash it away and at this point I noticed massive hives all over his body and he was crying that his throat was burning. I knew at this point that something was seriously wrong and we needed to go to the hospital.
At that point, I should have called 999 and asked for an ambulance. I only realised this once I got to the hospital and the nurses asked why I didn’t. I thought that 999 was for emergencies and didn’t want to waste anyone’s time! If you are ever in this situation PLEASE ACT FAST AND CALL 999. Ellis was in full anaphylactic shock and had a Grade 3 allergic reaction.
The car journey was horrendous. I was so scared. Ellis couldn’t stay in his seat, he was in so much pain, he couldn’t breathe and was projectile vomiting.
We spent the night in hospital and left with a prescription for 2 epipens, antihistamines and an allergy action plan. We had to educate our whole family on this and anyone who would have Ellis in their care.
I have to admit that before Ellis had his allergic reaction, I thought that allergies were sometimes people being ‘fussy eaters’ or ‘over protective parents’. How wrong I was. Allergies are a matter of life and death and I became more aware of other allergies that families have to deal with… milk, dairy, fruit, legumes.
Steven and I both felt guilty. Steven for allowing Ellis to eat the cashew and I felt guilty for eating honey roasted peanuts and cashews throughout my pregnancy! The allergy doctors explained that as Ellis was born with lots of allergy related conditions (eczema, asthma, hayfever, pollen, dust allergies) the chances were higher of him having other allergies.
They also explained that following a reaction like his, his tolerance was now lower to another reaction. Ellis is tested every 6 months at the Allergy Clinic for all nuts and other allergies such as pets or airborne allergens. He will have 16 tests and at least 13 are positive! When he has his nut allergy testing his strongest reactions are cashews and pistachios. They have told him to avoid all nuts, as he will not have the tolerance to fight the reaction. They have suggested that in his late teens, they may bring him in and in a controlled environment introduce foods to check his reaction. Thankfully this is a long way off.
The children are both really good at asking about nuts in restaurants or when visiting others. We need to be nut free and Ellis and Conor will ask in restaurants if the spaghetti bolognese contains pesto or the ice-cream wafers contain nut oils. I check birthday cake for marzipan! Day to day, we check labels on food packaging and check the actual ingredients in the recipe. I can’t leave Ellis at birthday parties though! I again, scan the food and try not to make a big deal but buffets do scare me!
The food manufacturers seem to focus on covering their business rather than helping the consumer, which is annoying. The product ‘may contain nuts’ can sometimes be a hindrance as the recipe clearly doesn’t include any nuts. Ellis once came home from school and said he wanted to go on packed lunches as he couldn’t have Yorkshire pudding as the packaging says it might have nuts in it! Ellis would wear an allergy band (colour coded) for the Dinner Ladies at school. They were brilliant with him, but they can only go from the food packaging warnings.
Ellis has care plans and allergy action plans at school and any clubs that he attended. He also carries his own medicine bag that contains his epipens. We need to start thinking about showing his friends what to do if they were ever with Ellis on their own and he had an allergic reaction. The Allergy Clinic nurses gave Ellis a trainer epipen to practice with.
We cannot thank the Scholes Scout Leaders, Heidi Tait and Jon Bliss for helping Ellis stay at his Beaver and Cubs sessions on his own. They not only helped Ellis, they helped me too and I will be forever grateful. I had never left Ellis on his own. Heidi gave me the confidence to trust them and they had everything covered. Heidi never wanted Ellis to feel any different to anyone else who was attending. She would only ever buy snacks that everyone could have, rather than having something that Ellis wasn’t allowed to choose or go near.
We have had some upsetting situations with other parents over the years and it has all been due to lack of understanding.
A few years ago, the school would send out homework for children to bake at home and bring in their goodies to share with the class; a task that would fill me with dread. It all got too much, when cookies containing nuts were brought into school and I had to speak to the Head Teacher, who fully understood and agreed with my concerns. The task was removed from future homework and it caused some complaints from a handful of parents because their child was upset that they couldn’t show off their baking and share it with the class. Well I’m upset that my child might die if he eats one, so do me a favour and bake at home and show them off to anyone who wants one OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL please!
It just shocks me that children won’t ever have consideration for other people if the parents don’t teach it. School did an assembly and were brilliant about it.
We have had good and bad experiences on airlines too. Passengers moaning about not being able to eat nuts! It’s not FOREVER! Deal with it, at least you can eat them once the plane lands!
Awareness and education has to be the most important issue to think about when dealing with allergies.
Both Ellis’s primary and high school have been brilliant with understanding my worries and having all staff trained on what to do in an emergency. Ellis has more responsibility at high school in respect of holding his own medication, which is good, because I can’t be with him 100% of the time and as he is growing up he needs to know what to do on his own.
We have never gone to an Indian restaurant with Ellis and recently, Ellis’s nurses told me we shouldn’t be eating Chinese food either as there is a chance of cross contamination or cooking with nut oils. There is so much more information in the media now about customers having severe and sometimes fatal allergic reactions after eating in restaurants or from takeaways, it’s frightening as a parent.
It is a very difficult situation when eating out or eating on the go, however, from our experience we are over cautious and will always inform them about Ellis’s allergy. The UK are improving with having allergy information available and we have recently discovered a restaurant that we love for their ‘nut free’ environment, MOD Pizza.
Ellis never moans. I moan at him for not remembering his medicine bag. It is a way of life for us all and we are used to it now, 7 years on. Being prepared with medication, making others aware around you and trying to educate others on allergies will always get us through it and I hope it will for anyone else.
Here is a photo of Ellis’s allergy action plan and if you ever see anyone in your own family, friends or even a stranger displaying the symptoms, you can help out.
As a mum, I will always worry and will probably scream after Ellis ‘HAVE YOU GOT YOUR EPIPENS?‘ even when he is married with his own kids! He is much more chilled than I am about it but the reality is, people living with nut allergies face a daily risk, a potentially fatal risk.
My hope in you reading this is that you educate yourself and your children about the seriousness of allergies and how small changes that don’t really make a big difference in your day-to-day life, can make a huge difference to families like ours.