Gold Coast mother Terran was getting ready to return to work when her six-month-old daughter first displayed allergy symptoms after drinking cow’s milk formula.
“As she drank the formula, I started to notice that the skin around her mouth had started to go red. Within half-an-hour her body was covered in hives. It looked as though she had 1000’s of insect bites. Her eyes had started to swell,” said Terran.
Terran with her daughter Coco. Image supplied.
The new mother rushed to the doctor, where her daughter, Coco, was given a steroid shot to relieve the symptoms.
"The hives slowly went down. The GP told me she had suffered an allergic reaction, but was unsure if it was caused by the dairy or another ingredient in the formula. He suggested I keep trying different formulas until I found one that she didn’t react to - advice which could have killed my daughter had I followed it," she said.
After seeing three different practitioners, the Gold Coast mother was referred to Paediatric Allergist and Immunologist Professor Pete Smith.
"We discussed her reaction, her mild eczema, her frequent vomiting and she underwent a skin prick test. I was expecting to be told that she had a dairy allergy, but were shocked and devastated to find out that she also had a large reaction to peanuts and tree nuts with milder reactions to dust, dogs, cats and eggs. We were given an overwhelming amount of information that day, and a script for two EpiPens," she said.
Coco, 10, is currently allergic to peanut, dairy, cashews, pistachios and cats and could suffer anaphylaxis if she ingested peanuts. She has outgrown her allergies to egg, most tree nuts, dog, feathers and grasses and has suffered badly from mosquito bites.
Guilt and fear.
Coco has made it through the past 10 years without a severe allergic reaction, but that doesn't mean it's easy to manage.
"The biggest challenges of parenting a child with allergies are the guilt and the fear," she said.
"When Coco was diagnosed I was overcome with guilt as I was sure it was something I had done. Over the years I have realised that even if it was something I did or didn’t do, I can’t change the past. Guilt still rears its ugly head whenever I have a down day, or I see my daughter upset about her allergies.
"The fear is harder to overcome. Each new stage in her life brings up different challenges and I am constantly worried I haven’t done enough to keep her safe. My heart still stops every time the school rings as I assume they are calling to tell me she has had a reaction and is in an ambulance or worse. She is starting to go on camps at school and I worry that I haven’t packed enough food, the mobile phones won’t work or no-one will realise she is having a reaction until it is too late.
"In a few years she will be dating and I worry she won’t feel comfortable to ask her boyfriend to avoid her allergies or brush his teeth before they kiss. I worry that when she is 18, she will have a few drinks and alcohol will impair her ability to make safe food choices.
"Teens are at a far greater risk of anaphylaxis as they are known to take risks, and often won’t carry their EpiPens as they don’t want to stand out."
Coco's allergy treatment has required adaptability. Every age has needed a different management.
"When Coco was little, it was very difficult. Going to parties where all the kids are covered in ice-cream and chocolate used to give me a panic attack," she said.
Coco with her mum and dad. Image supplied.