Q: My child was just diagnosed with a severe nut allergy. What's the best way to keep him safe?
A: There's no doubt that having a child with a potentially fatal food allergy is terrifying. And unfortunately the vast majority of severe nut allergies are permanent. That said, your child's allergy doesn't mean you have to live in constant fear, just that you have to be extra vigilant. Here are some good ways to start feeling more in control:
• Banish all nuts and nut butters from your home and do not let your child eat or handle them when you're out and about.• Read ingredient labels very carefully. When in doubt, don't buy or serve it.• Learn CPR and have all of your child's caretakers and close relatives learn it too.• Always carry an EpiPen with you. These little life-saving devices are used to quickly inject epinephrine to prevent anaphylaxis after a child's been exposed to an allergen. You should also leave extras around the house, in your car, other purses, Grandma's house, your child's backpack, and all around school or daycare.• Have a clear, written plan of action in place, including the symptoms of anaphylaxis, where the nearest hospital is, who should be contacted if a reaction happens at school, and who will care for your other children while you're at the hospital (you should plan to be there for at least a few hours).• Educate anyone who will be caring for your child about the allergy, including a list of off-limit foods.• Educate your child as well. Starting at age 3, teach him what foods he should avoid, how he might feel if he's having a reaction, and how to dial 911 if there's no grown-up around. Once he's closer to 7 or 8, show him how to use the EpiPen himself, and practice different scenarios at home. Remember that he may panic during a reaction, and knowing how to respond can help keep him calm.
If your child's in school or daycare, be sure the teacher knows about the allergy. Provide the teacher (and school nurse if there is one) with an EpiPen and help them develop an emergency plan in case your child has a reaction. Nut allergies are more common these days, so many schools and daycare centers are used to managing these issues. In fact, some have even started forbidding kids to bring nut-containing foods into the building.