When my little girl was 18 months old, she ingested a small amount of hummus . . . like the size of a pencil eraser (that may be generous). She quickly spat it out and began beating her mouth with her fist. About 30 minutes later, her eyes were swollen shut, her torso and face covered in whelps, and wheezing commenced. (You can read the whole story about her allergy attack and subsequent diagnosis on my personal blog Another Youree Day.)
A trip to the ER and an allergist later, and we now know she is allergic to sesame seeds, which are found in tahini and are a common ingredient in hummus. Sesame is also found in many Asian, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, Italian, gluten-free, and bread-based foods. I double dare you to find a hamburger/hotdog bun (even if the bread doesn’t have sesame on top the bun) or bread crumbs (hello Panko) that doesn’t list sesame in the ingredients. Add to the mix of no-nos: veggie burgers, croutons, many boxed rices, sausages, baked goods (bagels, rolls, pastries, crackers), sauces (pizza sauce!), and vegetable oil. AND some cosmetics like lotions, lipsticks, and oils contain sesame oil. A handful of intramuscular injections and ointments also contain sesame oil.
All this makes me the crazy, allergy-sensitive, don’t-let-a-sesame-seed-near-my-baby mother.
While many children/adults deal with food allergies that create hives or rashes, many people also struggle with allergies that cause serious (and by serious, y’all, I mean life-threatening) anaphylactic reactions. My sweetest girl lives with the latter.
Based on our experiences with our daughter’s allergies, these are a few tid-bits we’ve learned:
- Follow the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and your pediatrician on when to introduce certain solid foods, especially those that are more “popular” allergens.
- Just because your sweetie tasted peanut butter, shellfish, or, in our case, hummus once, doesn’t mean an allergy doesn’t exist. My daughter tasted a small amount of hummus when she was 9 months old, but didn’t like it. I didn’t try it again. An allergic reaction doesn’t occur with the first exposure to a food. In the first exposure, the body identifies the food as a foreign object that deserves an immunological response. When that food is ingested (or even just touched/inhaled in some cases) the second time, the body is now primed and ready to react to that food.
- More often than not, the anaphylactic response is more severe each time the food is ingested. If you have an anaphylactic reaction the first time, you will always have an anaphylactic reaction. The reaction will just vary in severity, often (though not always) increasing in severity each time.
- Epipens save lives. And you need them in bulk. My doctor recommended having two on you at all times because the first one is given when the reaction starts and often a second one is administered after 15 minutes have passed, while you’re waiting on the ambulance. Two at school. Two in the diaper bag. Two at home.
- Read every label in your kitchen. No kidding on this one. I’d never known sesame seeds are in bread crumbs if I hadn’t done this. Make your home allergy free for your child.
- Be your child’s advocate. Alert school administration, teachers, and those supervising lunch time of the food allergy. I have a three-page document that describes my girl’s allergy, foods that contain that allergen, medical instructions on what to do in case of an attack, how she behaves when a reaction is happening, and contact numbers for doctors, hospital, and of course, me and the hubs. I also ask the teacher or administration to alert every parent/caregiver in the class or of those children who will be “lunching” with my daughter about the food allergy.
- Don’t forget about date night. Our regular babysitter is well-educated on the allergy and knows not to bring anything into our home containing sesame. With new/weekend babysitters, I alert them to the allergy and the Epipens, making sure they are comfortable with administering the shot if need be.
- When we attend play dates, whether at our house or another’s, I always mention the allergy so the fun time can be free of shots and ambulances. And when we attend birthday parties and what not, I always check with the host to make sure to keep my girl away from any sesame foods and to make sure I bring good substitute foods for her to enjoy.
- Giving a daily dose of Zyrtec not only helps with sweetie’s nasal allergies, but also provides a “one up” on a reaction should she accidentally ingest sesame.
While this list may seem daunting, life with a food allergy is not the end of fun or good food. It is a mind shift, but one that becomes part of your daily routine and habit. We are nearing 12 months of being sesame free. Here’s to hoping for MANY more months–if ever–(a mom can dream, right) of no reactions, no Epipens used, and no ambulance rides!
Do you have any other tips for what you do for allergies in your home?