THERE is nothing more distressing for a parent than watching as their precious child gasps unsuccessfully for breath, with airways swelling and their small bodies breaking out in a hive like rash before your very eyes.
The reality that without a life saving injection, this child – who is having a hypersensitivity reaction due to coming in contact with something they are allergic to – will die, is something that more and more parents and carers are having to face each day.
There is no doubt that food allergy continue to increase at alarming rates each year.
Whilst the community bandy around possible theories as to why and researchers across the world pump more time, effort and resources into trying to solve the mystery, those who have children that suffer from allergies continue to grapple with managing their child’s risks of exposure and reactions whilst trying to maintain a normal childhood for them.
1 in 10 infants now have food allergy with the most common food allergies in childhood being cow’s milk, egg, peanut and tree nut.
The foods that trigger 90% of food allergic reactions in Australians include cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, sesame, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish and sesame allergy are usually lifelong.
Risk cannot be removed but it can be managed with the community as a whole needing to possess a greater understanding and awareness of food allergy.
Individuals at risk of anaphylaxis, the most severe form of allergic reaction that is potentially life threatening, along with their friends and those caring for them, must know how to reduce the possibility of a reaction, be able to recognise a reaction when it happens and know how to respond.
Small events like play dates, recess and lunch at preschool and school and birthday parties can literally be a minefield for those with allergies.
Being a parent of a child with allergies to eggs, nuts and bandaids and who is intolerant to dairy and soy, is a tough gig, but for Karen McQuellin it is just part of everyday life with her son Jack.
She said getting the word out and making people aware of food allergies is the key to understanding and making kids with food allergies safer.
“Just a trace can cause an anaphylactic reaction for Jack,” Karen said. “He can only eat food sent from home and his teacher has a jar of safe treats for rewards at school.
“There is frozen cake in the freezer at school for Jack to have if another student brings a birthday cake to share and the canteen are supportive as well.
“Jack and the school are currently working on creating a poster of things he can purchase from the canteen.”
Adapting normal practice can be achieved within a school setting. The introduction of a blanket ‘no nut’ policy across schools means there is a safer path for children with allergies.
For Jack, learning about his allergies and developing strategies to keep himself safe has also been necessary.
He speaks with ease about what he can and can’t do and it is obvious that for Jack and his family, being educated, careful but still living life to the full is a winning combination.
Jack has medical bags at school that are always on the playground at recess and lunch. These contain his life saving EpiPens, antihistamine, asthma puffers and gauze and bandages in case of an accident. His friends are aware of the role they may one day play and are all keen to assist if required.
“Jack had his first anaphylactic reaction when he was 18-months old,” Karen said. “He started screaming in pain, within seconds he was hoarse and his eyes were swollen closed.
“It was the moment that happened so quickly and changed our lives forever.”
After a bout in hospital and being treated for an allergic reaction to peanut butter, the daily routine in the McQuellin household drastically changed.
“Jack is our youngest of three children,” Karen said. “He is 10, Declan is 12 and his big sister Jaimee is 14. Jack is the only child in our family with food allergies.
“The image of Jack having that first reaction is with me always. When I hear other parents say ‘my child shouldn’t miss out on having peanut butter sandwiches at school because your child is allergic’ it infuriates me.
“They have obviously never experienced holding their baby, who was limp and lifeless and barely breathing. I am sure that if it was their child, their opinion would be different.
“Jack loves going to visit his friends at their place just like all kids and it’s reassuring to know that his mates and their families understand his allergies, know the foods that are safe for Jack and know how to follow his action plan in case of an anaphylactic reaction.”
For more information regarding food allergy week head to www.foodallergyaware.com.au