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We have a food allergy...Now what?

Some critical basics you need to know.

I still remember the day we discovered my son had a food allergy.

It was honestly probably one of the scariest moments in my life, up to that point in time. I'll spare you the details here (you can find our story here if you're interested), but I just want to start off by saying we know how you're feeling. It's hard. It's unfair. And it can be horrifying too. And the worst is that not everyone understands. Not everyone wants to feel your pain. Not everyone even believes allergies are real. It's so hard.

We'll cover all of that and how to deal with the external world later. What I've laid out below are some basics you'll need to know and a few helpful resources to get you started when you're ready. But importantly, take the time you need to grieve a little as well. It's OK to feel sad - devastated even. It's OK to feel wronged. It's OK to feel upset. Give yourself a break.

And when you're ready, here are a few things you can start to do.

A few do's to start with:

Start reading food labels. In the US, packaged foods are required to note the top 8 allergens in plain language on the label. So what you'll usually see under the ingredient list is the word "Contains" followed by the name of the food allergen. Some manufacturers will list it within the ingredient list, but the plain language allergen will usually be in parentheses. Here are some more details.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Manufacturers are NOT required to label for cross-contamination. It is voluntary. Cross-contamination refers to when an allergen unintentionally gets in the food, i.e. if the previous product run on the manufacturing line contained nuts, traces may be present and can get into the next product run on the same line. This will feel daunting at first, but we will touch on tips on how to manage this. For now, it's best to avoid packaged foods until you are ready or have decided on your level of comfort with risk.

Get an epi-pen. If your child had an allergic reaction, talk to your doctor about getting an epi-pen. They may refer you to an allergist. Everyone who has an allergy should be able to get a prescription for one, as severity of reactions can differ each time, even to the same type of allergen. If your doctor will not prescribe you one, ask to be referred to an allergist or seek another provider. Some basic info here.

Carry Benadryl with you at all times. Minor reactions can typically be treated with Benadryl. When my kids were infants, we would carry a bottle in the diaper bag with an oral syringe dispenser. As they got a little older and we didn't always have the diaper bag with us, this generic version comes in pre-dosed vials that won't leak in your bag.

Ensure hands, surfaces, and any cookware and utensils are washed well. It is not enough to just sanitize (i.e. using antibacterial/cleaning sprays). You actually will need to get rid of the presence of an allergen to prevent contact reactions or cross-contamination.

Seek out allergy-friendly recipes. We are building some great resources here on this site that we are adding to regularly. In the meantime, some cookbooks that I found the most helpful when we first started on this journey was Sophie Safe Cooking and Cybele Pascale's Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking.

A few don'ts:

Don't read any of the comment sections on allergy articles or negative posts online. While the larger community in coming around and understanding about allergies are increasing, there is a lot of misunderstanding, misinformation, and also many trolls out there. It's best to stay away from that until you begin to feel more confident.

Don't be afraid to speak up. Don't worry about what others think or about inconveniencing others. Keep in mind that this is about your child, and you are your child's biggest advocate. We'll share more tips on some best practices, but in summary, we've been successful by respectfully sharing information and making it easy for others to help make accommodations, rather than being demanding about it (unless the situation calls for it). But don't be afraid to be firm and to be clear.

Don't think that it is the end of the world. Know that you WILL be OK and you will find your new normal. It will take a little bit of time and adjustment, but you will get there. And we would love to help you in that journey.

Note: The above is not a substitute for professional medical advice and is meant to be just one perspective. Always consult and seek the advice of your doctor. This post also contains some affiliate links, but any product recommendations are my own.

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