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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Accidents Happen: Allergic Reaction

It's hard to imagine that something you feed your child - or something that your child finds in your house and ingests - could cause a very serious, life-threatening reaction. But that's exactly what can and does happen. In this situation, it is imperative that you act quickly.

This post focuses on peanuts as an allergen, and with good reason, "Peanuts are among the most common allergy-causing foods. It's likely that more Americans are allergic to peanuts than any other food." Insect bites, other foods, and certain medications can also trigger anaphylaxis.

The following post was written by Terri, a very good friend of mine here in the NW. Recently, her little guy Gavin had a scary allergic reaction. My heart aches a little as I read her experience. I am so glad that G is okay! The insight that Terri provides is so honest and her tips could be quite possibly life-saving.

We found out the hard way about Gavin's peanut allergy. We had talked about having him try peanuts before we went on a European cruise, thinking that if he was allergic, we'd rather find out when we were 8 minutes from the ER, as opposed to 800 miles. He was 19 months old, so we figured getting close to the age he'd be ok. Neither of us have any food allergies in the family, so we were not expecting him to have one. We hadn't planned it, but Brian and I were eating peanut butter toast one day, and Gavin wanted to try it. He reached out for it, and took a bite. I didn't think much of it, until his face started getting a red rash. I panicked a little when it started going down his neck, and had Brian get the Benadryl. Gavin took some, and then he seemed fine. We decided to go to the park. At the park, Gavin started coughing (like he had something stuck in his throat) and a drink of water wouldn't help. His nose started running, and I knew a cold couldn't come on that fast. We went home, and tried to put him down for a nap, but he was very irritable. After a while of crying and labored breathing, I had Brian call the doctor, and when he was on the phone, I turned on the light to look at Gavin. Sure enough, his face was swelling, and he had hives all over. We asked the doctor (still on the phone) what to do.
  • Was he wheezing? Kind of... definitely breathing heavy.
  • Was he swelling? Yes.
  • How far away is the ER? less than 10 minutes.
  • Okay, take him there now.
We hopped in the car and drove off. On the way there, I sat in back with my baby while he continued to swell, had even more shallow breathing, runny nose, and he started drooling. He was staring off into space. To say I was scared is the understatement of the year. I wanted to scream at my husband to drive faster! I wanted to grab my baby and cradle him in my arms! I watched helplessly begging God to let us get there in time, and to keep my baby safe. I tried to hold back the tears so I wouldn't scare him, but I have never been so scared in my entire life. My whole being was afraid of losing this precious little baby.

We made it to the ER, raced in, and they got him an epinephrine shot and loaded him up with Benadryl right away. Eventually the swelling stopped and started to get better, and he finally slept. Once the doctor said he'd be okay, and began asking questions, I lost it. I couldn't move and just clutched my little boy that we could have lost. He had a full anaphylactic reaction but - thanks to treatment - would be okay. We were transferred to the hospital downtown for 24 hour observation, and he got better through the hours. It was a day I will never forget, and that has changed our life forever. I learned so many things, a few of which I'd like to pass on to every mom:
  • ALWAYS CALL 911 if you think there is an allergic reaction. We were told time and time again that we should have just called 911. It could mean life or death for your child. Even if you already have an epi pen, use it, then ALWAYS call 911 if there is a reaction.
  • Kids can have a food allergy even if no one in your family has one. If you have OTHER allergies (hayfever, eczema) that can make a child more prone.
  • Keep Childrens' Benedryl on hand even if you never use it. The doctors think that us giving it to him right away could have saved him from going into Anaphylactic Shock. (Always check with your pediatrician before you give any meds).
  • Potential signs of an allergic reaction: Hives, Itchy or Runny Nose, Swelling (lips, eyes, face is serious), Coughing (meaning they are having trouble breathing), Red Eyes -- typically a child won't be able to go to sleep with all this going on, according to the ER doc which is also a sign.
  • Allergies to peanuts (and other items) can vary in sensitivity (meaning amount of exposure needed to cause a reaction) and severity (what happens when a reaction occurs). Anaphylactic reactions mean that it starts to affect their breathing, Anaphylactic Shock means it also affects their circulatory/nervous system and is even more serious.
  • Over 1% of US kids have allergies to Peanuts. There are many theories as to why, which range from an increased amount of peanut products in our diets (US eats over 8 billion lbs of peanuts a year!), to how they are prepared here in the US, to us not exposing our kids to enough bacteria to build up their defenses.
  • Peanuts hide in all kinds of food. Specifically many types of Chinese foods, cookies, ice creams, candy (including plain M&M's), sauces, and more. READ LABELS. It becomes a habit. Remember if you have a peanut allergic child over - and you make PB&J for your kids, and dip a knife in peanut butter before the jelly - don't give them jelly from that same jar!
  • Always consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns or questions about any allergy or allergic reaction. Allergies to any foods can be very serious.
  • Be sensitive to others that have an allergic child. Understand that it can be extremely serious, and what should be done if a child you know has an allergic reaction when you are with them (using an epi pen is EASY!). Mom's with allergic kids will be so appreciative of your sensitivity, understanding, and knowledge, and feel more comfortable letting their kids come to play. All these kids want is to fit in, feel happy, and be safe!

Printable Allergic Reaction Instructions ... from

Disclaimer: Clearly the Accidents Happen series is meant to be informative but also from a mother's point-of-view. The information provided in these posts are medically accurate - to the best of our knowledge - but we are not licensed physicians. We are mothers sharing an experience.


You may also want to read my other Accidents Happen posts:


Chi-town momma said...

Such a scary experience! Terri, thank you for sharing your experience. I hope there are no more reactions in your future!
Kiddos to you for your insightful and speedy response to save your little one!

Chi-town momma said...

Yeah, that should be kuddos, not kiddos! Time to go to bed!

Jessica said...

Wow, that is scary. So glad her little one was ok.

An interesting note is that our pediatrician told us of a study that was recently done that suggests that one potential explanation of the high numbers of peanut allergies in the States is that we aren't exposing them to it early enough! In countries where kids are eating peanut butter earlier there are far fewer allergies. Could be some of the explanations mentioned in this post, but could also just be that we are doing things backwards here out of fear.

But this post is a reminder that the fear is real for many people! Thanks for the good tips about how to deal with allergic reactions.

SupahMommy said...

ughhhhhhhhhh---- so heartbreaking i was all verclempt.. for real.

im thankful for the story as a learning lesson... but more thankful he's okay.

hugs for that moma.. and good to know to call 911.
when in doubt .. just call.