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The Holidays: From Nuts to Trees What Makes Your Family Sneeze

Everyone gets stressed around the holidays- everyone. Too many things to get done and not enough time during the day wears us all down and leaves us teetering on the fine line of “Did I take care of that?” What makes it even more difficult for those with food allergies is when you factor in some hidden allergy triggers among the spirited chaos. What can be meant as a simple holiday item could turn out to be something so much worse if research is not done correctly and labels are not paid attention to. And although there is never a good time for an allergic reaction to happen, the last thing that you would want to do is create a new memory that ends in hysterics or critical conditions. Let me share a few guidelines so that your holiday list will include lessening the chances of an allergy trigger.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire This is a typical theme from as far back as many of us can remember hearing about. It’s a cozy memory until someone doesn’t pay attention to the labels on your bundle of wood. Many people may not even notice that some brands of firewood contain nut particles (such as pecan or walnut) because of the type of tree that it came from.  There are also some fireplace logs such as Duraflame that use nut shells in their quick lighting logs. Although tree nuts and peanuts (which are legumes) are different, they may both be ingredients that you do not want to mix with your family festivities. My tip: learn before you burn.

Pick a tree but not that one The tradition of choosing a tree for the holidays can also bring about a handful of invisible allergy triggers. That beautiful tree that is going to join you for a few weeks may contain up to fifty types of mold. Those with mold allergies could spend their holidays coughing, sneezing and rubbing their itchy eyes instead of celebrating. Opt for an artificial tree or hose down your real tree and let it dry before bringing it inside. Just keep in mind that there are also those who can also be allergic to artificial trees as well.

Let it snow Regardless of what the weather is like in your area, that cozy scene of snowy days during the holidays can be easily created with artificial snow. The danger in this- the can that dispenses the snow. The aerosol in the can also emits chemicals as well as the fake snow. Asthma sufferers could potentially be affected by these chemicals. Have your faux snow already in please a day or two before visitors arrive and avoid using the product when guests are present. For an easier, allergy-friendly option try making paper snowflakes.

Candles light the way Nothing is more festive and inviting than being surrounded by candles. Pair that with your holiday décor and it truly changes the feeling of any room. However, it could also change how someone is feeling when they walk into that room. Ingredients in candles can be just as important to pay attention to as food ingredients. Candles can contain oils and substances that can kick off an instant reaction for anyone who is hypersensitive to fragrances or the ingredients themselves. This includes soy candles as soy is fast becoming an ingredient that people are avoiding. Keep your guests in the holiday spirit by using fragrance free candles or battery operated candles.

Don’t forget the food All of us enjoy indulging in goodies, it’s a given but this is not the time to lower your allergy radar. Thankfully, there are companies that provide allergy-friendly chocolates, holiday supplies and more to allow everyone to celebrate with a smile. Chocolate Gelt items are nut free, dairy free and parve food items for those who observe Hanukkah. Amanda’s Own Confections offers both Christmas and Hanukkah goodies that are free from dairy, tree nut, peanut, egg and gluten.  Everyone with allergies should always be cautious but they should also be able to enjoy their holiday safely.

The holidays are about celebrating together and enjoying the time that we get to spend together. Remember to ask your family, friends and guests if they have any allergies that you can try to avoid to keep them more comfortable during their stay with you. Always check labels and consider simple ways to avoid turning a welcoming visit into an unplanned allergy catastrophe. With a bit of organization and fact-finding, happy holidays can stay happy for all.

Chores Outdoors? Watch Out for Hidden Allergens

Sometimes, we joke that one of the reasons that we had children was to help with the household chores. Admittedly, having them pitch in does help everything run a bit more smoothly. Chores are also a parents’ way to ready their children for adulthood, teach them responsibility and to show them first hand that nothing is as easy as it seems. The majority of parents are excited the first time they don’t have to mow the lawn or pull up some weeds from the garden. What some parents may not know is that caution must also be taken to avoid unseen allergy triggers. First and foremost, our children (especially those with allergies) should always take the necessary precautions to avoid as many health and life threatening situations as possible.

The most typical triggers include environmental components that fly through the air and love to settle inside of our nasal passages as well as our hair. Even on the clearest of days, sending your child out into the beautiful air may bring them back to you in a sneezy, itchy condition you were not expecting. What began as pitching in for the family could end as an allergy-saving effort with the entire family. Since we cannot stop the pollen changes or the plants from needing to be trimmed, check the forecast before you venture outside. Be sure that your child is prepared by having them wear a mask, eye protection and gloves. Simple precautions could help keep this allergy explosion under control.

Sometimes obvious triggers are not so obvious. Those who have insect or bee venom allergies should always remember to have two auto injectors and other medications with them at all times in case of a surprise meeting. The trouble is that some of these insects are no longer as visible as they used to be. While you are watching out for them up in the trees, you could be walking right into a swarm that has burrowed underground. Even though they are only looking for a safe place to live, they see disturbances as a threat and may swarm into action instantly. A single sting is scary but multiple stings are definitely horrific to think about. Be aware of your surrounds and wear long pants and long sleeves to limit the possibility of easy access of areas to be stung.

Another source of outside allergy reactors may be found in cicadas. If you have a shellfish allergy, be prepared before your child decides to pick one up and see what they are all about. Cicadas are part of the arthropod family (which shellfish belongs to) and although they may seem quite harmless, they could be an instant reminder of that shellfish allergy. Most of us don’t even consider insects and shellfish to be related but an allergy doesn’t discriminate. If your child is curious, have them wear gloves and be available in case the nature seeking turns into a completely different scenario.

We have all been told “leaves of three, let it be” to avoid poison ivy and sumac  but what is often left out of the conversation is the lingering impact that the oil can have on us when we eat specific foods. Cashew trees and mango trees are part of the same plant family that contains urushiol oil on their leaves just like poison ivy and sumac. In addition to that, each time you break out from an exposure to these plants, the worse your reaction will become. Some people have reported having an allergic reaction to mangos and/or cashews after being exposed to urushiol oil. This may not be the case for everyone but being knowledgeable and cautious may keep you one step ahead of an unanticipated snack turned dangerous. If your child has a known cashew or mango allergy, the best thing to do is to have them be especially careful to avoid poison ivy and sumac. If your child is an outdoor fanatic, teach them what to watch for and tell them how important it is to wear protective layers to avoid contact with the oils (just as they should for other outdoor triggers) and make sure your child showers off with a product that can remove the oils to lessen the chance of cross reactivity.

Having a child with allergies can be tricky- being prepared is always the first step in avoiding any allergy trigger. With multiple factors waiting for an opportunity to jump out from around the corner, parents who have children with allergies and the children themselves can understandably be afraid to learn this new phase of life. Keeping an open and honest discussion with your child about their allergies and what they can do to make it easier for them are simple ways to ensure that your child understands how to be prepared. It also sends a gentle reminder to you as a parent about how important it is to pass along knowledge about your child’s health as well as how to keep the yard clean. Teaching the responsibility of a chore can always wait but teaching the responsibility of understanding your allergens is something that must be learned immediately.

When Should Your Allergic Child Start Wearing A Medic Alert?

Medic Alert Foundation: Kid’s Medical ID’s

Everyone has a habit- some of us don’t leave the house without our keys while others need to make sure that all of the lights are turned off. Whatever your habit, chances are these are things that were learned easily by repetition.  We are all taught at an early age that repetition helps us to remember to do things with less concentration. If your child has severe (e.g. life threatening) allergies, the same can be done to help teach your children to stay as safe as possible each and every time that they leave the house.

Begin As Soon As Possible This truly means as soon as possible. Regardless of what age your child learns about their allergies, it is crucial that they understand the importance of wearing some type of medical I.D. item. From the moment that your child is diagnosed with an allergy, make it part of their daily routine to check for their medical I.D. before they leave the house. Just as we teach them colors and numbers, teach them to advocate for themselves before they even understand that’s what’s actually happening. Always be open and honest with your child and explain the reason for having their allergies easily accessible for those who may need to see it in the event of an emergency.

Medical I.D. is Necessary Many parents feel that having their child wear a medical I.D., especially at an early age, may not be necessary. Parents who are with their children most of the time feel that they can ensure that proper allergy information is exchanged directly from them. Although this is understandable, it may not always be the case. Car accidents can happen at any time. This is one example of the possibility of a parent not being able to speak for their child due to what may have happened to them during the accident as well.  Sometimes things happen in life that we do not expect. Should a parent fall ill, become unconscious or be unable to speak or communicate for whatever reason, a medical I.D. would still be accessible in the interim.  With a medical I.D. product, everything is clearly seen. If you relay allergy information to a family member or guardian, they may not share the complete information if they are affected by an accident or are under stress.

What is Appropriate? Luckily, there are quite a few items that are available now. There are multiple styles, colors, sizes and ways to showcase the important information that just may save your child’s life.  Having more than one I.D. is often recommended as well (one somewhere on yourself and one on your personal effects).

  • Medic Alert Foundation: Medical ID

    Infant car seats can use a D. Wrap as a first line of information if someone was removing your child from the car. If there is an accident, emergency responders instinct is to reach for the car seat- having the wrap attached makes all of the emergency information travel with them.

  • Shoe tags are also recommended. Having emergency information on a car seat is the first step but for parents who rely on babysitter or daycare, shoe tags will still be with your child after they are taken out of their car seat.
  • Necklaces for both boys and girls are available as well. These are items that can always be worn so, in this case, the habit would be to make sure it’s not missing. I do recommend that you research the appropriate items and length for younger children who still like to put things into their mouth.
  • Bracelets are often the preferred jewelry. The reason being- a necklace may slip back underneath your child’s head and become invisible if they are lying down whereas a bracelet will always be on a place where vitals will be checked.

Allergies can be a tricky part of life, especially for younger children and new parents as well. By teaching your children that this is their normal way of life, they will grow up not feeling as if they should have done something differently. Empower your children by letting them pick out their I.D. items and always have open conversations with them on why they need to keep themselves safe. At such early ages, our children are like little sponges of information- let them sink it all in but always let them know that their safety comes first.

Should My Non-Food-Allergic Child Also Carry An Epi?

Although my second experience of becoming a mom was a lot smoother than I had feared, I am faced with an entirely new set of dilemmas. You see, when you have a child with and without food allergies, you actually feel as if you gotten ahead of the game the second time. You are prepared when you were not the last time. Your child is prepared. But as with anything in life, once you feel that you are riding along at a nice speed, you hit a bump on the road. This is parenthood; challenges, always and worry, always.

Becoming a parent the second time around was nerve-wracking after having a child with food allergies. While the joy of being pregnant was wonderful, I also had visions of how I would handle another child with allergies as well. Would they have the same food allergies? Would they be different altogether? How would I handle having to manage different allergies and still keep some type of sanity within our home? What did not cross my mind is how I would handle a second child without food allergies. What is amazing is when your child takes the worry from you because they know that it’s what you taught them to do.

My daughter was attending a school trip that included nights away from home. It also included an activity that used shrimp. Although she has not been officially diagnosed with a shrimp allergy, she has noticed that the few times she has had it, her stomach hurts and she doesn’t like the texture of it on her tongue. So we had a dilemma when this trip came about- should she bring epinephrine along with her? The teachers would have it but being brought up in a food allergic home, my daughter was fully aware that being prepared is the first step to safety. She knows that an allergic reaction can happen after you have eaten a food a few times with no obvious symptoms and how quickly it can happen. Quickly meaning if she had to take the time to find the teacher with the epinephrine, it could very well be the time that may mean a trip to the emergency room or worse.

What surprised me from the beginning of this event was the fact that my daughter asked me if she should bring epinephrine versus me going to her about it. She told me she thought it was better to be prepared as opposed to not being prepared. I asked her how she felt about relying on the teachers who would have it with them and she shook her head, explaining that she wanted to have it with her- within reach. I would not be with her, I would not be there to help her if something did happen and my daughter wasn’t afraid of that, she was afraid of not being prepared. She put an Auvi-Q into her bag, packed up her items and nothing else was discussed.

Then, the day of the trip came. It was early, we drove to meet the bus in the darkness of morning and once she found her bus, she began to board. Just like that- no hug, no goodbye, nothing until I spoke up “Hey, what about me?” With a smile, she came to give me a hug and just like that, a piece of my heart was leaving me (even if it was only briefly). For her, the trip was wonderful and me- I spent three days checking my phone and just standing in the emptiness of her room. There is nothing quieter than your child’s empty room. Why am I panicking? Here are some reasons:

  • It is estimated that approximately 15 million people are diagnosed with a food allergy
  • There is no cure for food allergies
  • The first line of treatment for anaphylaxis or ingestion of a known allergen is always epinephrine
  • Always carry two auto injectors in case one malfunctions, is not usable or if a second dose is required
  • Trace amounts of allergens can cause an allergic reaction
  • Biphasic reactions may also occur hours after a reaction seems to be under control

She returned safely and didn’t have to use the auto injector but this has become a new unspoken rule for any trip away from home. Am I a helicopter parent? I used to be but now, I am just a mother who has children that are educated about food allergies. I am the mother that knows that to our family, it’s important to carry an item with us that is literally life saving. My daughter once told me that it’s not just about her being able to use it if she needs it- it’s about having it to save anyone who might need it if we were in a situation where someone was having an allergic reaction. This is our life and who would we be if we couldn’t help someone else?  Amidst all of the everyday chaos and our parental worrying, our children don’t hear anything except I need to be safe and I need to keep others safe. This confirmation is worth every single bit of worrying because to me, I feel as if we are saving each other before we even know that we need to be saved.

Can Dining Out Be Fear-Free With A Food Allergic Family?

Too often, we allow our fear of unknown ingredients to limit out lives with food allergies. Understandably, this could literally be life or death in some cases. But at what point is it time to decide to use that fear to empower us? How can we overcome the endless what-ifs and begin to piece together a safety net for our dining needs? Face it- food is a huge part of everyone’s life and it’s something we simply cannot escape.

Join Them Remember that saying If you can’t beat them, join them? This can also be true in regards to setting up your dining strategies, even with food allergies. Today’s support and technology allows for a huge assortment of allergen and ingredient research even before you step foot inside of any type of eatery. There are multiple places to go and safe lists to see so why not utilize what’s out there?

  • Pick a Safety Zone– before you even leave your home, start your research. Never go out to a new restaurant on a whim, not even if someone else assures you that they are pretty sure it’s safe. You need to be your own food detective and advocate to remain as far from your allergens as possible.
  • I’ve said it before and I will say it until the day I cannot speak anymore- Always, Always Have All of Your Necessary Allergy Medications With You At All Times. You know it takes seconds for a reaction to happen so being prepared is always the smartest and most proactive way to stay one step ahead of a reaction.
  • Try a Test Run– always lean towards less is more. Obviously, the less you ingest of a possible allergic food the less the reaction would be compared to devouring an entire meal full of allergens. Start with a sample and work your way up. Don’t want to waste money? Enlist a friend who doesn’t have any food allergies to share your meal item.
  • Don’t Go Alone– when trying new foods, it’s better to be with someone else in case of an emergency. Often people who have an allergic reaction that comes on rapidly are not able to communicate their needs or administer their epinephrine as needed. The buddy system is also a safety system (plus eating alone is never as much fun as eating with friends).

Options At Your Fingertips Are you not quite sure how to explain your allergy needs to your restaurant staff? Why not order custom dietary allergen cards. This is a discreet and easy way to ensure all of your allergens are communicated to your wait staff in more than eighteen different languages. Clear and concise communication is key to making sure everyone is on the same page and ready to work together for utmost safety with your meals.

Just about every person has access to some type of portable information (phones, laptops, etc.) allowing us to gain the information that we need anywhere, anytime.  Use your technology to see what other people are saying about their dining experiences. Food apps, such as DineSafeApp have become one of the best ways for both restaurants and their patrons together.  It’s no wonder that with the current estimate of 1 in every 3 people being diagnosed with a food allergy warrants up-to-date and precise ingredient and menu information.

Make it Personal Being your own advocate also means being your own concierge. Do not wait until you arrive to talk about your specific dining needs- make an appointment. Chefs are almost always more than happy to set up an appointment to speak with you before you even try their meals. This also gives you the added benefit of reading the body language of the person that will potentially be feeding you. Are they hesitating? Do they answer your questions without really giving you a complete and educated answer about food safety? Do they seem as if they may not have as much food allergy knowledge as you were hoping? All of these are signals for you to pick up on prior to your meal and before your food even touches your lips. If you have any doubts, you may consider seeking out a different location that will feel as if the chef knows what you need them to know. It’s your life- you are allowed to be picky.

Listen To Your Heart, Not Your Stomach The fact is, we all want to desperately feel normal. We all want to be able to get into the car and eat somewhere that everyone else eats without thinking twice about it. We all just want to have that meal that we see on television or on the menu. What you are feeling is completely normal but it may not be safe. Simply put, is the price of that meal truly worth the price of your life?

Babies Should Get Peanuts Early to Cut Allergy Risk

New guidelines issued yesterday by experts from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend introducing peanut-containing foods to babies as early as possible as a way to lower their risk of developing a peanut allergy.

The recommendations reverse previous advice to add peanuts later, but are driven by new scientific research that showed early introduction of peanuts could cut allergy development by 81%. The guidelines are tailored for a child’s risk for peanut allergy, as follows:

  • babies should get peanuts earlyInfants at HIGH risk for peanut allergy (have severe eczema, egg allergy or both)
    • Add peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months
    • Consult with health care provider prior to adding peanuts – specialized testing may be needed
  • Infants with mild or moderate eczema
    • Add peanut-containing foods around 6 months
  • Infants without eczema or any food allergy
    • Add peanuts to infant diet as appropriate/desired
  • IN ALL CASES, start babies on other solids before adding peanut-containing foods

If you have specific questions or concerns about introducing your child to peanuts, speak to your pediatrician or family doctor.


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