My latest Allergy Story is from the lovely Sadhbh, children’s author and blogger at Where Wishes Come From. She is the mother of lovely twins Lile and Sábha. One of the twins has a peanut allergy and the other thankfully has no food allergies.
Hi Sadhbh, thanks so much for taking some time to share your family’s allergy story.
What age are your girls?
Lile and Sábha are just 7 years-old.
How did you first find out about Sábha’s peanut allergy?
We discovered that Sábha had a peanut allergy when she was a year old. I had read that you shouldn’t introduce things like honey and peanut butter until babies were over a year so around their first birthday I gave them both the tiniest taste of peanut butter to see what would happen. Lile was fine but Sábha immediately broke out in hives and her lips swelled up.
It is extremely interesting that Sábha has this allergy and not Lile, it is obviously great that they don’t both suffer with it but you often hear theories bandied about that allergies are a result of something a mother eats/doesn’t eat during pregnancy or as a result of introducing a particular food into a child’s diet too early or too late.
As you introduced the peanuts at exactly the same time to each of them it is a definitely a situation which disproves the theory. What do you think?
I find this fascinating too. I honestly don’t know what the answer is, unless it’s something to do with them being non-identical? And they are different in almost every way, in general! I did eat peanut butter during pregnancy, but not particularly often as I was wary of it and I did follow the guidelines about not introducing it before a year-old with both of them so it’s really a mystery how one has it and the other doesn’t.
How did you find the process of getting a diagnosis?
I found the process confusing to be honest. After I had seen her reaction at a year old I brought her to our GP. He recommended that we leave it a while and try again as she might grow out of it. But I was nervous as I didn’t know if she’d react more severely the next time. I waited a full year to be brave enough to try it again. She had much the same reaction. I tried again at age three and, although she didn’t break out in hives, she did have awful stomach pains and vomiting. At that stage I decided that I wasn’t happy putting her through it again. Although I reported each time to the GP, at no stage were we referred to an allergy specialist so I was never officially given a diagnosis. I thought there would be a ‘system’ around testing but it would appear not.
Everyone I speak to about this seems to have a different story and there always seems to be a level of confusion involved. It’s such a pity as it makes an already very difficult scary situation even worse I think.
Did the doctor/allergist automatically want to test Lile too?
The doctor asked if I had noted any reactions in her sister, but as I hadn’t he left it at that.
Was it recommended that Sábha be tested for other allergies also and is she allergic to anything else?
Sábha hasn’t ever had any formal allergy testing, but we have discovered ourselves that she reacts to dust mites, cat dander and has hay fever in the Summer. She also has asthma. In terms of nuts, we count ourselves lucky that it just seems to be peanuts that she reacts to and she has eaten almonds and other nuts with no negative reaction.
Does she have an epipen?
I requested that she be prescribed an epi-pen after an incident where she ate a tiny piece of ‘Rocky Road’ cake that we didn’t realise had peanuts in it and was ill for three days with crippling stomach pains and vomiting. She also had ‘a very bad itchy throat’ as she described it. The incident was frightening and definitely made us realise that we were under-prepared if it had been a worse reaction.
Does your child’s school have a good allergy policy? Does she have the epipen in her school bag?
The school does have a good policy around allergies and the teacher keeps an epi-pen for her. There are several children in the school with severe nut and egg allergies so there are notices all around the school and regular reminders home about not sending in nuts/mayonnaise etc. There was one time though, that Sábha came home from school with a pocketful of ‘seeds’ that I only took a closer look at because, as she was playing with them, I noticed her eye was getting red and swollen. They turned out to be peanuts! She had taken from a bird-feeder in the school garden and didn’t even realise herself what they were. I notified the school the next morning and they couldn’t have been more apologetic. A volunteer had been helping them with the garden and the school had no idea that the peanuts were there – it’s definitely one to keep an eye on though, as things like that can be easily missed in schools!
There was one other incident in the school recently where a child shared a piece of her homemade ‘energy bar’ with Sábha that turned out had been made with peanut butter. Sábha ended up vomiting and having other reactions, but again thankfully not anaphylaxis. No matter how good school policies are – they’re only effective if everyone involved in the school follow them. This incident was a good opportunity for having the discussion with the children and with the parents in the class but it’s unfortunate it came to something so dangerous for some parents to accept the policy. If you don’t live with an allergy you don’t really understand how serious it can be, I suppose.
Oh that’s so scary about the energy bar! I’m glad she is ok. A lot of the energy bars and power balls and healthier treats that people are making do have nut butters and I often wonder if people even see nut butter as the same as nuts, like maybe it needs to be spelt out more. There definitely needs to be more talking and education around the issue. I think you’re right that many people don’t understand how serious it can be.
Did you have good support from your doctor/allergist?
Yes and no. Our GP has been supportive in terms of our requesting epi-pens etc, but I still feel we don’t have all the answers and that more could be done to officially diagnose her.
Yeah I hear you on this, my boys never had an official diagnosis either and while it was originally referred to as an intolerance it now turns out to be a special type of delayed reaction allergy that they have.
What do you find most difficult about restricting certain foods? Do you and your family remove peanuts from your diet also?
We have not bought peanut butter in a long time! I prefer to keep peanuts out of the house altogether but the most difficult thing for us is children’s parties. Sábha herself is very wary after the last reaction and can now speak out for herself and ask if there are nuts in certain foods. But quite often the hosts either don’t know or have thrown the packaging away. She tends to eat very little at parties or only eat packaged foods that she recognises as ‘safe’. In saying that, she’s still very young and if a treat looks tempting enough I do worry that she’d ‘risk it’ or that a food might look like a safe food but might be a different brand and therefore cause a reaction. Parties are definitely tricky for allergy sufferers!
Are your family and friends understanding? Do they ‘get it’?
Our family and friends are definitely understanding – but because they don’t live with it they don’t always remember that Sábha has a peanut allergy so it’s great the she’s so vocal herself about it!
Is eating out a challenge as a family?
We don’t have too many challenges eating out, to be honest. We have to be careful in places like ice-cream parlours where there might be cross-contamination of ingredients or cafés that don’t list their ingredients clearly (especially for cakes!) but other than that we’ve had no serious issues.
Thanks again Sadhbh for taking the time to talk to me about Sábha’s allergy journey. It sounds like you’re well on top of it and it’s just wonderful that she is able to be vocal about it and is careful herself at parties. We find parties the most challenging too.
If you would like to tell your allergy story, drop me a line or comment below.