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"I don't let my son eat birthday cake, ever. And this is why."

“My son is not allowed to have birthday cake, ever.”

My son is not allowed to eat birthday cake, ever. It’s something I’m challenged about often and I’m pretty sick of having to explain myself.

The first time I was confronted was at a family function a few years ago. My son and I were lined up at the dessert table, plates in hand and were looking forward to seeing what was on offer. We reached the table and both excitedly surveyed the food. There wasn’t one thing I could allow him to have. Not one.

“You can’t have any of this darling, I’m sorry,” I said, after observing the birthday cake, cupcakes, biscuits, jelly, custard cups and other delicious treats.

“That’s okay mum,” he said, a little dejectedly. Then, a stranger who was standing behind us said, “Wow, a bit harsh mum. Should I get him a carrot stick?”

I turned around to confront the person I suspected was in fact a distant cousin and said, “It’s not because he’s on a diet, he has food allergies. He’s allergic to all of this.” The guy scoffed, actually scoffed. Clearly he had no idea what one mouthful of these foods could do to my son.

Philip has explained it to me often. He’s told me exactly what anaphylaxis feels like to him. He said it starts with pain inside that makes him scratch his throat and skin. “It’s not itchy mum, it’s more like pain inside me. Then I feel sad and in pain and I just want it to stop mum.”

Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by Alphapharm. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100 per cent authentic and written in her own words.

Here’s what it looks like on my end. My previously happy and healthy boy becomes agitated. “I’m having my reaction mum,” he normally says before beginning to hysterically cry. Apparently, the crying is brought on by an overwhelming sense of fear and dread, that is, the body sensing impending death and entering panic mode. He looks flushed, the bridge of his nose begins to swell and his skin appears patchy.

Jo with her son Phillip

By the time I retrieve his emergency medicine and come back, he is pacing around the room or jumping up and down on the spot, which has the sad effect of speeding up the reaction. I grab my child, pull him onto my lap facing away from me, press the injector into his thigh and count to 10 slowly while my husband calls for an ambulance. I’ve only had to do this once.

Other times the reaction has been minor and he’s come back from it without his life-saving injection. Then there are the ‘food challenges’ we do each year at the hospital. He is fed foods that should be safe. Twice he’s reacted and had an alarming number of doctors and nurses frantically try to stop the allergic reaction.

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Every week, I hear about children and adults who lose their lives to anaphylaxis due to one food mistake, one wrong mouthful of food. I’m scared every day. I’m scared of cake, of pesto, of anything that can be glazed with egg, of our favourite pizza restaurant that has started to offer a pizza that has cashews sprinkled on top of it.

Philip is not allowed to eat birthday cake, ever, it’s as simple as that. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my child, sorry if it annoys you, I don’t care if it does.

Food allergies have reached epidemic levels and nobody knows why. They don’t know why the rate of food allergies in Australia is so sky-high and they don’t know how to cure it.

So here’s what we do every day:

  • We keep his emergency pack on him at all times. It has a label attached to it with his full name, allergies (egg and nuts) and my mobile number.
  • We don’t buy any foods containing eggs or nuts where the ingredient isn’t visible.
  • We choose his foods together.
  • I point out foods he can’t ever eat while we’re food shopping.
  • We discuss foods that may possibly contain the foods he is allergic to.
  • I’m teaching him to cook using alternative ingredients.
  • I expose him to the foods he is allergic to once a month and eat them in front of him so he learns about how not to cross-contaminate food and what people who have eaten allergens have to do before touching him.
  • We pack special snacks that are kept at school for days students are given treats I haven’t checked.
  • We focus on the positive. Don’t think of what you can’t eat, think of what you can eat.

I do everything I can to protect my children from danger. Philip’s food allergies are just one extra danger on the list of things we need to be cautious of. I teach him to cross the road at the lights, wear a helmet while riding his skateboard and exercise for health. I send him to school, clean him, cloth him and teach him how to look after himself so that when I’m not there, he knows what to do. By the time he starts high school, he’ll be able to manage his allergic reactions himself.

“I do everything I can to protect my child from danger”

To those who continue to treat my son’s food allergies as an annoyance and as an inconvenience because why should their child miss out on eating peanut butter and Nutella at school just because my child could die from it, I say, “I’d push your child out of the way of a moving car, I’m just asking you to do the same for mine.”

Because food allergies in children aren’t food intolerances. They aren’t tummy aches. Anaphylaxis can kill.

This Food Allergy Week, hold your breath. Go on. Hold your breath for as long as you can and when you can’t do it any longer, breathe out and be grateful you don’t have a severe food allergy stopping you from breathing out.

Now do you get it? Good.

Here are some of the most common triggers of allergic reactions.

In a world where peer pressure is rife, how do you make sure teenagers always carry their medication?

Australians are being reminded to be “allergy prepared” to minimise the risk of allergic reaction and anaphylaxis – the most severe form of allergic reaction. Australia and New Zealand are among the countries with the highest prevalence of allergic diseases. Approximately 4.1 million Australians have at least one allergy and if current trends continue this will rise by 70 per cent, reaching 7.7 million in 2050*.

To show your support for ongoing allergy education, host an “allergy friendly” morning tea during Food Allergy Week and help raise funds for Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia. Visit www.anaphylaxis101.com.au for more details. http://www.allergy.org.au/images/stories/pospapers/2007_economic_impact_allergies_report_13nov.pdf