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You can’t: talking to young kids about their allergies

22 May

I have a close relative who can sometimes be as emotionally sensitive as a sledgehammer. And one extra thing that I believe you need when dealing with an allergic child, is a great deal of sensivity when talking about their allergies.

This relative (let’s call them Z), somehow manages to end up telling Adam every time they see him about which foods he “can’t” eat.

It’s amazing just how skilled Z is with finding situations where this topic could come up. For example, they will be reading a book together and where there’s a picture of a cow, Z will suddenly go from talking about cows and dairy products to a blunt statement like “but you can’t drink milk or eat cheese”. Or at the dinner table, I mention hummus in passing, whilst talking about something completely different, and Z takes the opportunity to turn to Adam and say “you can’t eat hummus because you’re allergic to it”.

What’s my problem with what Z says? Nothing. The content is factually correct. But I don’t think that its relevant nor useful to bring up Adams allergies in this way. And when it is relevant to talk about them eg. when he initiates the topic or we really are talking about food, then I think there are other ways of talking about it that take into account that he is a little human with feelings who has to deal with a pretty big issue.

Z responded to me saying this with “allergies can’t be taboo. He needs to know he has allergies”.

Adams almost 4. He’s known consciously and clearly that there are foods he cannot eat and ways his life is restricted compared to other kids for well over a year now. He knows many of his allergies off by heart and likes listing them.

But we’ve explained it to him in a way that focuses on what he “can” eat rather than what he “can’t” and on the safety of the food rather than on him and his body.

So if talking about dairy, I say “we don’t eat dairy. We drink rice, oat and hemp milks instead!” I’m lucky in that I don’t eat any diary whatsoever because I have a diary intolerance so I can at least say “we” in that sentence so Adam isn’t alone in not eating that food. I will always highlight what he can eat instead whenever we talk about what he’s allergic to.

If he picks up a chocolate bar in a shop I will say “that’s not safe for you honey, lets find something that is”, rather than just say “you can’t have that”. With over 20 food allergies it does mean that finding something that is “safe” can be extremely difficult in little shops but you’re almost guaranteed to find salted crisps for example or an apple juice that Adam can have (yes we ignore the “may contain” warnings as otherwise there’d be close to absolutely nothing that Adam could eat).

For the same reason I avoid taking Adam to any random shops or shops I don’t know. If I do need to take him shopping, we go places where I know he will have a choice of things he can pick off the shelf to eat and not be faced with aisle after aisle of unsafe foods. Health food shops are ideal for this and second best are large supermarkets.

So in no way are Adams allergies taboo, he is in fact quite proud of them and loves chatting about them. But I do think that as his parents its our job to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for him to talk about them and be as subtle as we can. If he doesn’t grow out of any of them then daily life for him as he gets older and has to fend for himself might be quite tricky.

I don’t want to make the whole thing harder for him by focusing on the”can’t”s rather than the “can”s.

How do you handle chatting about allergies with your child? Do you think its important to try as best you can to deal with it sensitively or do you believe in being blunt from the outset? Has how you talk about allergies with your child changed as they’ve gotten older? I’d love to hear your thoughts so do leave a comment!

Medicine pouch

20 Nov

Carrying medicine wherever you go at first seems a bit weird if you’re not used to it. Soon enough though it becomes second nature (especially if you have had to use the medicine in an emergency!).  I love handbags, changing bags and rucksacks (well any sort of bag really!).   So I’d been worrying whether every time I was going out I’d managed to transfer all of Adam’s medicine to the bag I was taking.  The solution? To just have a medicine pouch that I can easily transfer to any bag and which always holds the essentials.  Saves times and keeps me from worrying.

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So what’s in the pouch?  The most important and potentially life-saving two items are the epi-pen and inhaler (plus inhaler tube/mask for kids).  I’ve also started carrying cetirizine.  The cetirizine is an antihistamine we use instead of pyriton (which contains alcohol).  I’ve used it a few times when we’ve been out and Adam’s come into contact with something that’s made him itch considerably.  This thankfully doesn’t happen often as I avoid situations where I think he’ll come into contact with allergens (more in the ‘lifestyle’ post that’s coming soon!).  And if I do end up in that situation (e.g. we’re at the zoo and Adam really wants to go on the slides then I use a ton of wetwipes).  If he’s just got one hive that is itchy and he isn’t bothered by it much then I won’t give him anything but if its on his face or there are a few hives that obviously bother him then I give him the antihistamine. It’s pretty amazing-it kicks in within minutes.

The cetirizine is in a small dinky bottle. I used to not carry any antihistamine at all as the original bottle was so big. I asked a pharmacist whether it was possible to have it dispensed in a smaller bottle and she said of course!  Seems like an obvious solution but it took me months to figure out!  I’ve read on a pyriton forum the posts of angry parents asking the manufacturer why pyriton can’t just be sold in smaller more useful quantities. Hopefully they’ll have a friendly helpful pharmacist to help them out too.

I also carry some hand sanitizer which rarely gets used and wet wipes.

So far, thank God, we have never had to use an epi-pen. The cetirizine and asthma inhaler have been used only a handful of times each.  I’ll be talking about medicines/drugs and how we’ve been using them in a future post, God willing.

Tips/advice

Get a pencil case or a pouch for your essential medicines!

Ask your pharmacist to dispense your antihistamine in 3x60ml bottles so that they are small enough to always have with you.

Never leave the house with your kid without the pouch with you. You literally never know when they might have an asthma attack or need antihistamines, or God forbid an epi-pen.  Its okay to seem paranoid at first even to your own partner (!) but once you’ve had to use any of the medicines even once when out and about you’ll see the necessity.

No kissing please!

20 Nov

Kissing my boy is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Luckily for him, I now only eat what is ‘safe’ for him.  It took us a long time to figure out, even after his diagnosis, that kissing him might not be that pleasurable for him all the time!  For example, if my husband had eaten a cheese sandwich hours previously at work, upon coming home and kissing Adam, we would soon see a series of hives on our boy’s face.  It seems crazy doesn’t it-its not like you’re feeding the kid the allergen or even rubbing it on their skin-you’ve simply eaten something yourself that he is allergic to and away his reactions go!  So now, my husband not only always washes his hands immediately upon coming home, he also often brushes his teeth too!

Now, for my hubbie and I this is all easy enough, particularly as I am still on my boy’s diet and intend to continue on it even after breastfeeding has finished.  It has however taken us a while to get used to this routine. The trickier part comes in asking relatives, friends and other kids to make sure they’ve washed their hands before touching Adam (particularly on the face).  Luckily, over time, family and close friends have gotten used to this! At the beginning when we were still just learning about just how sensitive Adam is to allergens, we were all learning by experience.  At my sister’s wedding, my mum had eaten a cheese puff in the morning and we were all shocked at the size of the welt that grew on Adam’s forehead almost immediately after she kissed him!  So now family members tend to brush their teeth or at least rinse their mouths thoroughly when they arrive at our place and friends just avoid kissing Adam on the face.  With smaller kids its trickier as its difficult to explain these things, so caring friends just take their kids and wash their hands when they arrive at our place and the kissing we just have to allow and hope for the best (Adam really loves kissing other toddlers!).

To an extent I think we have probably started hanging out with the same people even more than we might have been doing if Adam wasn’t allergic as its so much easier to spend time with people who already know and understand what can and can’t be done (more on this in a later post on socialising!).

What experiences have you had in limiting contact with your child due to allergens?

Tips/advice

If your little one’s eczema is still flared up despite you eliminating the foods in their diet that you know they’re allergic to, consider what is going ON their body/skin rather than just what is going IN it.  I first realised Adam was allergic to chickpeas when I kissed him after eating hummus and his skin flared up.

Don’t be worried about asking people to be careful about touching and kissing your little one.  There are ways of doing this politely and kindly and everyone I have come across has been really sweet and caring in response.  Wet wipes don’t really cut it in terms of removing allergens from skin but they are better than nothing if you’re out and about.  Dettol wipes seem to work better but then again they’re meant for kitchen surfaces not toddler’s hands!

This post overlaps with the one I’ll be writing about playgroups and nurseries where I will be discussing how we have dealt with them. There will be more in that post about contact allergies and interaction with other kids, so make sure you sign up to the emails for this blog!

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