It feels like we’re on March 400th but it’s actually mid-May which means it’s food allergy awareness week. I’m a quasi-retired food allergy parent. My child has completed oral immunotherapy so she is desensitized to her allergen, and we no longer live many of the allergy life realities that we used to. That being said, I still consider myself an advocate for families with food allergies and realized that a lot of things about living with a food allergy are very similar to what we are living right now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food allergy parents (and kids) are used to staying home
When your child is first diagnosed with a food allergy, you think “okay, then we just won’t let them eat [allergen].” And then as time goes on, you realize that avoidance is more nuanced than “don’t eat that.” You find yourself declining play dates and birthday party invites when you don’t know the families well enough to know that there won’t be peanut butter wrestling or an ice cream fight, putting your child at risk. Your home becomes your haven and you get used to being there.
Food allergy families are used to people denying its reality
I would be more shocked at the people denying the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic if I hadn’t had people deny the seriousness of my child’s medical condition to my face. People who were not doctors, much less board certified allergists would say things like “oh it’s not that bad” or “she’ll outgrow it” and my favorite, the suspicious “food allergies didn’t exist when I was a child. . . ” as if this is some grand conspiracy against Mr. Peanut. These days everyone is an unqualified epidemiologist, but in my life I’ve had a whole lot of unqualified allergists giving bad advice.
Food allergy families are used to not eating out
Avoiding cross contamination in restaurants and bakeries can be difficult so allergy parents become pretty adept at cooking and baking. Eating out was extremely rare and often fraught with so much anxiety it wasn’t worth it. I’ve been making my own bread for ages now, welcome the club.
Food allergy families are used to thorough hand washing.
For those times when you do go outside your bubble, hand washing is crucial to protect against accidental ingestion of any unseen allergen particles that could have been picked up in a public space. The monkey bars or picnic table at the playground could have invisible allergen particles (much like we are worried now about unseen coronavirus particles) and hand washing is the best defense.
People are very vocal about the tiniest inconveniences that could protect another person’s life.
Right now, a certain set of people are very bothered by being asked to do things like minimize time in public, follow retail protocols such as one way aisles and wear masks to protect others. For the food allergy parent, it’s people complaining about the lack of homemade treats at a party, or a classroom’s nut-free policy even though those things keep all children included and, most importantly, safe in the classroom. I suspect that the Venn diagram of these groups might have a hefty overlap.
Hopefully one day soon life will return to some version of normal. For many food allergy parents, however, this is their normal. Stay safe, be kind and remember that we are better when we work together.