Relatives Who Don’t ‘Get’ Food Allergies

in Food Allergy
Published: December 8, 2010

Issue: Impact of News Coverage

Stephanie Lester*, Ottawa, Ontario

What frustrates me is the general consensus – after my family reads stories in the news – that allergies will be cured soon so I really shouldn’t worry too much. Every time another allergy news article comes out the work I’ve done with my family is put back by a year or two.

If the article is about desensitization, the only thing my family will get from it is that if I feed my daughter her allergens she will be cured. I try and explain that there are multiple factors to such studies but their focus now is on the fact that I must not want her to be cured or I’d start to introduce her allergens.

My email will be flooded with links from family when new allergy articles come out about pills, patches, shots, about allergies not being as severe as thought.

I even got one about how her allergies may be due to my need for attention.

The material I have provided family is very direct and basic. I am always baffled that they can’t seem to find time to read or listen to me when I explain our daughter’s allergies yet they can take the time to read every obscure article online and take its content at face value.

Issues: Disbelief and Secret Testing

Cindy Knight*, Winnipeg, MB

My parents divorced when I was 5 years old and my father re-married when I was 11. My stepmother did not believe that my allergy to fish was real. She believed that I was avoiding fish because I didn’t like it.

After much debate over the years, she finally conceded that I would not be required to ingest fish but she would still cook it for the rest of the family.

One evening when I was about 13, she cooked fish for the family and prepared a hot dog for me in the same pan. After a short while I started to have trouble breathing.

Her response was that I should employ mind over matter and she proceeded to run me a bath. While I was sitting on the stairs waiting for the bath I stopped breathing and rolled down the stairs. My father gave me CPR and I was hospitalized. The doctors said I was very lucky to have survived.

Issue: Well-Meaning But…?

Anna Gallant, Toronto, Ontario

A few years after developing my peanut allergy I went to visit my father and his new wife and when we got to my dad’s house, his wife had made fudge. It looked delicious, and she told me she did not put peanuts in it like she usually does so that I could have some. I took a bite and was letting it melt on my tongue. It was delicious.

I told her it was so wonderful, it made my tongue tingle. With a big smile, she says, “That’s my secret ingredient – peanut butter”. I spit it out. Literally, it flew across the room. I ran to the sink to rinse my mouth, my husband ran to cupboard to get me a cup, my son ran for my purse, got me some Benadryl, and was holding my EpiPen.

My dad says to his wife “I told you she’s allergic to peanuts” and she says, “I know. I didn’t put any peanuts in it.”

He says “What do you think peanut butter is made from?” She says “I don’t know. I don’t make peanut butter, I buy it” and there I am, laughing so much I can’t swallow the Benadryl.

She cooks, bakes and cans all kinds of food – but not peanut butter. She’s a wonderful woman and we really do get along well. I will eat meat and veggies in her home but no candy or baked goods.

Elizabeth Sheppard Hewitt – St. John’s, Newfoundland

My son is allergic to egg, nut and peanut and we have had many challenges. My mother-in-law, who loves him dearly, just could not understand it. She’d say things like, okay, I’ll give him smooth peanut butter instead of crunchy.

She’d have him for a sleep over and call to say she planned to make pancakes – with egg – instead of giving him the cereal we provided. This continued for some time until I didn’t want her alone with him because I was certain she would unwittingly kill him.

So I called the dietitian at the hospital that my husband and I had spoken to when he was first diagnosed and explained the problem. I have to give her credit because she sat down with my in-laws and she scared them so badly that seven years later they still won’t give him anything until I read the box. I swear they are still shaking, too.

Good Strategies

Julie Mototsune – Oakville, Ontario

Before family functions, I always call ahead to find out what is being served, and of course we always bring along a large contribution so our son can eat the same food as others.

This kind of support did not happen overnight. It was a lot of education and discussion to bring this to where it is today. I also keep a stash of “emergency” treats in the trunk of the car in case the other kids are having some of treat I didn’t anticipate. I’ll keep small cans of chips and gummy snacks, as well as few other safe packaged foods.

With Christmas coming, turkey is always served, and our son cannot eat store-bought bread due to his sesame allergy so we always drive over a loaf of homemade bread before the event so the stuffing can be made with safe bread. Of course, when we are hosting, we don’t have to worry about any of this, so we host whenever we can.

Robin Bayley – Victoria, BC

My husband won a golf tournament prize this year of a gift certificate for a seafood restaurant. Of course, I am very allergic. So, my husband took my mother out to dine while my father, who is also allergic, and I ate a yummy dinner that catered to both our (different) allergies at home.

Everyone had a lovely time. Not everyone has to do everything together all the time. I use approach this when we visit or travel in Europe with my husband’s family. I encourage them to have a leisurely noon restaurant meal.

I eat my packed lunch in a nearby park or square and use the remainder of the time doing things I want to do, like getting exercise, shopping or visiting an attraction no one else was interested in. I don’t have to sit there, worried about being sprayed with shellfish juice and they can pursue their interest in food.

*Name changed by request