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FARE Blog June 08, 2021

Anaphylaxis During COVID-19

"It’s telling when a pandemic doesn’t even cross your mind as you rush to the ER."

Guest post by Shilpa Noronha

Shilpa Noronha
Photo: Kirsten Stickney Photography, @kirstenstickneyphotography

Shilpa Noronha is a food allergy aunt and a member of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) for the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research (CFAAR), part of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

In the thick of lockdown last year, our family experienced the worst anaphylactic food allergy event of our lives. And while it’s hard to relive the memory, it’s with the hope that if it helps even one person, this makes the vulnerability worthwhile.

My niece and nephew have food allergies. Sam’s are to dairy and nuts; Sara’s are the same plus gluten. Since birth they have actually outgrown several allergies, including eggs, seafood and sesame, and this has been a boon in our allergy journey.
We first discovered Sam’s allergies when we gave him goat milk at 6 months old. He was a colicky baby, and sis read that goat milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk. Within minutes the poor guy’s baby-soft, cream-colored skin was covered head to toe in patchy red hives. It wasn’t a sight you can easily forget.

When sis was pregnant with Sara, we mulled the possibilities of whether or not the baby would even have food allergies, and how do you handle one kid having them while the other doesn’t? LOL to those wishful thoughts! At Sara’s first allergist appointment, her entire back was covered with hives, and sis had to sit down when she found out that Sara not only had the same allergies as Sam but also had a gluten allergy. Having just gotten the hang of one set of allergies, being told gluten is a no-no was difficult to digest.

Anyway, back to the topic I’m trying to evade. It was a Saturday morning and Sara was eating her waffles. She ate a quarter of one and started to feel ill. My sister ran down and made the horrifying discovery that we had purchased regular waffles, not gluten free. For someone with such a severe allergy, Sara had consumed a very large amount of gluten.

In those days of quarantine, we were walking more often to stay sane, including to a different grocery store than our usual one. I was with sis when we grabbed the waffles from the gluten-free section. She didn’t think to check the label because of the dedicated section they were in, and I had completely forgotten that brand made gluten products. COVID brains at their finest.

Sara needed the EpiPen. Sis administered it at home and then drove to the emergency room immediately. It’s telling when a pandemic doesn’t even cross your mind as you rush to the ER. During their day at the hospital, they were taken careful care of and felt completely safe. However, because of COVID restrictions, I could not go into the ER. I was a pile of tears and anguish listening to the meditative music of White Sun on repeat to calm down, trying to be optimistic while pleading with the Universe to look after my girl. Thank goodness, she made a full recovery.

It’s unfortunately not our first allergy incident or ER visit with the kids. In kindergarten, Sam tried to help clean up after his classmate spilled milk. Kind, right? Except Sam rubbed his eyes and had a reaction. As a toddler, he was kissed on the cheek by someone at a party who had eaten peanuts, and off we rushed to the ER. Sara was once hospitalized for asthma, and the hospital mistakenly gave her food with gluten. I was holding her and could feel her body go lifeless when I thought to question the ingredients in the dinner she had been served.

At the end of the day, an allergy incident is trauma, and it takes a different toll on each individual. This time, the guilt of our mistaken purchase was unbearable. Yet, we recognized we are human and therefore fallible. It renewed our level of caution with food, which can be scarily lulled at times, even though there’s not much of a permissible margin of error. We pay closer attention to food labels regardless of where products are located in a grocery store. We wish food companies would consider having more distinctive branding for food allergens, especially when they offer both non-allergy and allergy-friendly products. We have supported Sara through her post-anaphylaxis anxiety and have reached a healthier place.

Having a child with a food allergy can translate to living with a low-key level of anxiety, 24/7. I wonder sometimes if it’s a test of our anxiety resilience because it sure feels that way at times! There are ups and downs, and we hope and pray for the best, always trusting the Universe has our back. We also refuse to let anxiety win. We want the kids to live lives as full as they want. We go through different phases as they grow older and more independent. As we gear up for Sam's heading to college in a little over a year, we are trusting he is well equipped for the independence he will experience as an adult on his own who knows his first priority at all times is protecting his life through food safety.

Food allergies can be challenging, yet there are silver linings. Managing food allergies has taught us innumerable lessons in perspective, control and trust. (And the kids love fruits and vegetables, yay!) If I can be of any help in your food allergy journey, do not hesitate to reach out through my blog, www.arcadianfare.com/blog.

Adapted from www.arcadianfare.com/blog/foodallergiescfaar. 

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