Doesn't it seem like we've gone nuts over nut allergies?
There are so many children with severe nut allergies that some schools have created nut-free lunch tables and nut-free classrooms. In my son's preschool, homemade treats are banned from parties and birthday celebrations, and signs proclaiming "This is a nut-free school" are posted on every corkboard.
I didn't get what all the fuss was about until Christmas day 2010, when my 2-year-old son, Hugh, had an allergic reaction that forced us to leave our family Christmas party. He ate a nut and started screaming, "My tongue is stinging! My tongue is stinging!" Saliva started flowing out of his mouth like a water spigot. We scooped him up, buckled him in the car and began driving toward the hospital. Thankfully, after giving him water and trying to help him relax, while we were struggling to keep our own anxiety at bay, the reaction stopped before we reached the hospital.
A blood test later revealed that he is allergic to all nuts, so we are now one of more than 3 million families in America who deal with the dangers and complexities of a nut allergy. We carry an Epipen everywhere we go; his preschool has one on hand in case a nut sneaks its way into his class and into his mouth. At the grocery store, I read all the labels because more foods than you?' imagine are made with nuts or processed in plants where nuts are present.
My son's case is mild compared to some children who have life-threatening reactions. Thankfully, he's never had a reaction so severe that he couldn't breathe, but the doctor warned me that the possibility exists. She also encouraged us that he may grow out of the nut allergy.
Researchers still don't know why so many children have developed nut allergies. Some say it's because they are exposed to nuts too early, other say early exposure helps kids stave off an allergy.
No matter why he has it, it's been a long experience.
I now think that his nut allergy showed signs in infancy. When he was nursing, he seemed to be upset often, waking five times per night for five months and crying continuously. I now wonder if my diet, which included nuts, was the culprit.
Today, I've learned to be my son's advocate, and I'm teaching him to be his own advocate. As educated as our society has become about nut allergies, not every childcare worker is alert to the seriousness. At Vacation Bible School this past summer, a volunteer, who knew he was allergic but forgot, offered Hugh a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If I hadn't been there to intercept, who knows what would have happened. I've taught Hugh to always ask if a food has nuts before he eats it, but he's a preschooler.
Like I said, it's been a long experience, but I'm happy to say it hasn't driven us nutty. (OK, I'm done with the puns.)
- Shasta Clark is a St. Clairsville native who lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, with her husband, two sons and daughter. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.