Living with peanut allergy and OIT – A mom’s point of view

Since I was breastfeeding Mikey when we found out about his allergies (and there were many!), the specialist insisted that I exclude the allergens from my diet.  While I mourned the loss of chocolate peanuts, in the long run, it made me focus on the things we could eat instead of moaning about what we couldn’t eat.  And so, birthday cakes became ice-cream cakes and cupcakes for his party at school became packets of crisps.  Fortunately, he outgrew all his allergies, except the peanut allergy, by the time he started school.

As soon as we got the diagnosis, our house became a nut-free zone and we did not eat peanuts or peanut products at all for over 10 years.  My husband and I did eat tree nuts, but our older son did not eat tree nuts or peanuts.  All this changed halfway through this year, but more about that later.

I’m fortunate that Mikey has never needed to use his EpiPen, but I always have one with me.  He has one in his classroom and another in the school office.  In the younger grades, the teachers are very aware of what the children eat and insisted that no-one in his class bring any nuts to school.  His grade 3 teacher is allergic to bees and had her own EpiPen and was vigilant about the food the boys brought to school for sharing.

Up until the end of grade 3, Mikey had his own supply of crisps so that he wouldn’t be excluded from birthday rings if a shop-bought product had a label indicating that it was made in a factory that uses nuts.  I suppose that it is this exclusion that is one of the most difficult things about his allergy.  I know that there are parents who are worried about his allergy and, as a result, avoid play dates.  But I know that they are also the parents who take his allergy seriously, so we have to be grateful for their caution.

It’s hard to say whether Mikey was a fussy eater or whether he’s become a fussy eater because of his peanut allergy.  He is certainly not an adventurous eater which is both a good and a bad thing.  He is also very aware of his allergy and seriously committed to keeping himself safe, but this attitude seems to suit his personality.  He is lucky that his school friends have also taken this on board and, quite often, they are the ones reminding their parents not to pack nut products!

By and large, the schools seem to be reluctant to take a stand about allergies, but we have managed to get Mikey’s school to consider being a nut-free zone.  The new Allergy in Schools policy should lend weight to this approach.

I tend to use fairly graphic representations when describing his allergy as people just don’t seem to get the severity and possible outcomes.  I think many people confuse allergic reactions with intolerances (sort of like calling a headache a migraine) but it does seem as though awareness has improved in the last 10 years.

Since he was first diagnosed at 8 months old, we have taken Mikey for annual check-ups.  After 10 years, we were finally rewarded when his specialist told us about the new OIT available in Cape Town.  I think we had made the decision 10 years ago to try any appropriate treatment that was recommended, so starting the OIT was the easiest thing to do.  Our specialist kept us informed of developments (and setbacks) in treatments but we had never discussed our decision with Mikey – I think we just assumed that he would agree to (and want) treatment.

He started the OIT at the end of January this year.  So far, it has been a remarkably smooth process.  I suppose we’ve been preconditioned by living with a life-threatening allergy for 11 years!!!  From 16 weekly updoses in the doctor’s rooms, Mikey has now progressed to eating a specifically weighed portion of peanuts daily.  He must be monitored (with EpiPen at hand) for two hours after the maintenance dose and cannot raise his blood pressure or temperature during this time – so there’s no running around or showering.  I’ve chosen to administer the peanuts (in our house, peanuts are medicine not food and Mikey hates the taste!) in the evening so that I can keep a close watch.  I’m sure that some parents prefer to dose their child in the morning and send them to school with their EpiPen.  It all depends on what works best for your family.  Three months after completing the initial OIT, Mikey will be eligible for additional updoses.  If he has no adverse reaction to these three elevation doses, I believe that the strict procedure surrounding the daily maintenance dose may be relaxed.

First prize would be a complete cure so that Mikey can eat whatever he wants.  Failing that, eating a serving of peanuts each day will be a close second.  Having to take a specifically predetermined number of peanuts each day (weighed amount) would be slightly more onerous, but definitely preferable to living with the allergy.

I’ve never really been a mom to Mikey without his peanut allergy, so I’ve learnt to deal with any issues as they crop up.  For me, his peanut allergy is just an integral part of who he is.