Guest Post: Does Your Child Have This Allergy?

“The. Sign. Says. No. Food,” a middle aged woman said through clenched teeth to my friend Pam and me. Pam and I looked at each other, slightly amused. We were with our kids in Northhampton, at the water park inside Look Park. The sign did say no food but our preschoolers were about to have blood sugar crashes and, besides, no one ever paid attention to the sign.

“My nephew has a peanut allergy,” the woman continued. “If someone eats a peanut butter sandwich near him, he could go into anaphylactic shock.”

An allergy to peanuts is no laughing matter.

This year in my son’s first grade class the teacher has noticed a record number of children have allergies. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and food in general have been rising among children. According to the CDC, food allergies affect over ten million Americans. As much as eight percent of America’s children under three have food allergies. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that the peanut allergy, in particular, is the most common cause of food-related death.

One child with a severe allergy to peanuts is my friend Vera Marie Badertscher’s grandson. When she isn’t reading books to her grandchildren, Vera Marie Badertscher blogs at Tahoma Blog, where she and her co-author, Charnell Havens, talk about their book, Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist (forthcoming April 2011). Vera Marie also writes about her two passions—reading and travel—at A Traveler’s Library. Vera Marie Badertscher graciously volunteered to do a guest post about a new book that can help children better understand food allergies.

Children’s Book, The Pesky Peanut, Talks about Food Allergies

Guest Post by Vera Marie Badertscher

“You guys got any candy?” My three-year-old grandson burst into the house. He’s not into the finer points of etiquette, including hugs for grandma.

Just for Andrew, I keep a bowl of chocolate covered raisins.

Andrew can’t eat peanuts.

It’s a heavy burden for a three-year-old, who is still a budding conversationalist, to have to say, “I can’t eat that. I’m ‘lergic.” But at his young age, Andrew already knows that eating a peanut might mean getting red bumps all over his body, and feeling really sick, and sometimes even going to the hospital.

I can’t imagine childhood without peanut butter and jelly. But food allergies and intolerances have become so widespread that we of the peanut-butter-and-jelly generations have to learn new ways of coping.

Vera Marie Badertscher reading The Pesky Peanut to her grandson Andrew

Vera Marie Badertscher reading The Pesky Peanut to her grandson Andrew

Katie Corl, the mother of a young boy allergic to peanuts has written a children’s book, The Pesky Peanut: A True Story, to help parents, school personnel, allergic kids, and their friends understand how to cope. Corl’s son first showed signs of a food allergy when he did what all one-year-olds do. He smeared his first birthday cake all over his face. But in his case, the funny sight became serious. His hands and face swelled and turned red.

Here’s an excerpt from early in The Pesky Peanut:

“When they arrived at the hospital, Kelly was taken to a room with bright lights and lots of people in white coats looking at him. After hours of testing, the doctors determined that Kelly was allergic to peanuts. The doctors informed Kelly’s Mom and Dad about the peanut allergy and asked them if Kelly had eaten any peanuts.”

The book avoids blaming anyone for the problems that beset allergic children. Instead it gives explanations of causes, symptoms and ways to cope.

“‘I … I … I don’t know,’ said Mom. ‘This has never happened before and I have never given a peanut to Kelly. All he ate today was his birthday cake.’ The doctors explained that even though the cake may not have been made with peanuts, it may have had traces of peanuts in it or could have been made in a bakery that used equipment that manufactures peanut products.”

book cover

I particularly liked the reassurance that the book gives parents and kids, and the practical suggestions that are built in, like when Kelly gets a little older, his mom takes him to the grocery store and he learns how to read labels.

This passage explains Epi-pens (the injector for anti-allergen drugs):

“’You’re going to be just fine, Kelly,’ the doctors said with a smile.

The doctors gave Kelly an Epi-pen, which was special medicine that Kelly would need to use if he ever came in contact with peanuts. The doctors showed Kelly how to use the medicine with a teddy bear that they gave him. It looked like a fat pencil and would stop the swelling if he ate or touched a peanut.”

A web site called Allergic Child, helps parents cope with the challenge of severe food allergies. On that site, I learned that it is not my imagination that the problem has increased seemingly out of nowhere.

“From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergy increase 18% among children under age 18. Researchers aren’t currently certain why the prevalence has increased.”

It turns out that children are much more prone to problems if one of their parents has allergies. My son Mike, Andrew’s father, has been plagued with allergies all his life (inherited from me), although he escaped food-related allergies. His teen daughter from his first marriage, Amber, discovered when she was about six and bit into a pistachio that she could not eat tree nuts. (In her case, peanuts, which are legumes, are actually okay.)

Amber has a friend who can’t touch anything that has touched a nut. Amber’s allergy is relatively mild: although she can’t eat walnuts or almonds or other tree nuts, she can eat things prepared with nut oil.

Some researchers believe that children tend to grow out of their allergies, but finding out whether they have or not can be so complex that, as in Amber’s case, they just decide to continue avoidance–the best treatment, since there is no known cure. Because this problem has arisen so suddenly, research is scant and contradictory.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation has a short, informative guide to peanut allergies on the Internet, and they state that unlike with other food allergies, 80% of children with peanut allergies will continue to face problems in adulthood.

Andrew grabs The Pesky Peanut from me when we’re through reading. He asks to take it home so he can look at it again. Always a good sign from the youngest book critic in the family.

Does your child have a food allergy? What do you think is causing the rise in food allergies among America’s children? (Some researchers believe that the increase in allergies may be because of the “too clean” lives our children lead with our avoidance of dirt and use of anti-bacterial agents. Others have argued that the build up of environmental toxins, like BPA used in plastics and to line aluminum cans, are overloading our children’s fragile systems. Another theory put forth by immunologists like Heather Zwickey is that the current childhood vaccine schedule, beginning with a vaccination for hepatitis B at birth, has contributed to the rise in allergies by overstimulating an infant’s immune system. Exclusive nursing for the first six months or longer, and extended breastfeeding, have been found to decrease the likelihood of allergies.)

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14 thoughts on “Guest Post: Does Your Child Have This Allergy?”

  1. Jennifer: Thanks for sharing Andrew’s story and the story book for kids with allergies. I had not seen the study attributing allergies to vaccines, but as I said in the article, the research is all pretty inconclusive at this point–as are potential cures, unfortunately.

    .-= Vera Marie Badertscher´s last blog ..Movie Shows Real Seattle- Washington =-.

  2. Has anyone ever had a nut allergy who was not vaccinated? I am curious about this because the only studies I have seen say nut allergies do not exist really in non-vax communities (i.e. Amish).

  3. Look Park? No food? Times have changed. As a kid growing up in that area in the ’60s and ’70s, we picnicked there annually with multiple families. Those were treasured times, running around those huge rhododendron forests (which I hope are still there), playing baseball, goofing around on the paddle boats. We had lots of food, lots of kids – and no one had a food allergy.

    Now I am up to my eyeballs in food allergies. Not only does my son have them (first of my family’s grandkids to get multiple early vaccines) but as a pediatric dietitian in private practice, I see these week in and week out, and help families navigate. What concerns me most – besides why kids now have severe food allergies so often, and all the nutrition problems that accompany those – is how little help these families are offered by our health care system. The usual drill is steroids, anti-histamines, mast cell stabilizers, and Epi-pens; some children in my case load use three or four drugs daily for allergies but still get only partial control.

    I’m also puzzled by how non-plussed the medical community seems about it all: When did it become normal to have such sick children, or kids who can’t go to Look Park, run around, eat whatever, and have fun? This certainly is a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry.

  4. This is an excellent question, Lisa. I hope others will chime in with answers. I was plagued with allergies as a child, as was my husband. We both still have horrible allergies. Our children, interestingly, have not yet developed any allergies that we know of (even though James can’t look at a Dalmatian without breaking out in a rash). We delayed vaccinating them for the first two years (six for the oldest) and then vaccinated selectively, based on a model of what immunologist Heather Zwickey calls individualized medicine. I also breastfed the older three for almost five years, three years, and four and a half years. This could all be complete coincidence, of course. I only know a handful of children with nut and other food allergies. They’ve all been vaccinated according to current CDC guidelines. I am learning about immunology as part of my book research and there does seem to be some very interesting (and complicated) reasons why early and aggressive vaccination may be linked to longterm immune dysfunction.

  5. My daughter, now 5 1/2 has a nut allergy. Pretty much every nut, some more severe than others. Peanuts are severe. She was not vaccinated until she was about 3 1/2 and only with DTaP. Her allergy showed up when she was around 18months.

  6. Thanks for sharing Andrew’s story, and for the resources. A close friend’s son is allergic to nuts, and recently had to leave a school presentation he’d worked very hard on for weeks because there were nuts in the room. It’s a constant anxiety for them to be monitoring every situation.
    .-= Jane Boursaw´s last blog ..The Green Hornet- When Good Comic Book Movies Go Bad =-.

  7. My niece had terrible food allergies as a small child. Wheat. Egg. Dairy. They all seemed to send her into hives. Fortunately she seems to have grown out of them, but it was a hard several years and she didn’t have any anaphylactic reactions.
    .-= Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last blog ..Sheep Tallow Soap =-.

  8. We have a regular B&B guest, aged 10 now, and her mother has educated me on peanut allergies. I wish we knew what causes this. I agree with the commenter who said the world we live in today is drastically different from when she was a child: I believe we need to regulate the toxic chemicals in the environment. Children should not be getting ADHD, autism, peanut allergies, etc.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..A Mellow Week =-.

  9. There does seem to be so many more incidences of food allergies today. Is it at all possible that part of the higher numbers are because we’re more aware of them? My mom has several food allergies (although not peanut) and when she was first diagnosed years ago no one really took her situation seriously. Today it’s so much easier for her to find the kinds of foods that she needs.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Mexican rice pudding =-.

  10. I cannot remember anyone at all having peanut allergies when I was growing up. Everyone, it seems, brought peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch. And now, it astounds me how many children cannot even be near peanut butter. It must be difficult for a child to have allergies and have to worry about what they eat and/or come in contact with.
    .-= sheryl´s last blog ..How to Stop Stress in its Tracks =-.

  11. Judy, thanks for your comment; I’m glad at least one person in the medical community is concerned about the rise in allergies. Even members of my peer group (in our 30s) who had minimal allergies as children are seeing their symptoms worsen, from shellfish to nuts to basic pollen and mold reactions.

    While I don’t want to take anyone’s time away from, say, cancer research to determine why this is happening, this seems like a big red flag that SOMETHING is wrong.
    .-= Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last blog ..Book Review-Entertaining with the Sopranos =-.

  12. It makes sense to have books written for kids about their own allergies. Still, it’s incredible how allergies have become so widespread. I don’t follow the research, but has there been any connection in the medical or homeopathic literature about the emotional connection and allergies?

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