Caregiver Perspective: The Two Types of Food Allergy Awareness
Last updated: May 2023
As someone living with blood cancer for 15 years, I know all about "awareness" months and how they work. I am happy to tell others about cancer prevention, treatments, and research and how those things can help people in the future.
Food allergy awareness as a caregiver
My now-adult son was diagnosed with food allergies at age 2. Whenever he was going to be in contact with someone, awareness wasn't about the future. I needed my message to be immediate and clear, and I needed to make sure it had been understood.
That might be the hardest part about having a child with food allergies. Every playdate, every first day of school, every trip to the park: I needed to be aware. Plus, my kid needed to be aware, and as he grew more independent, I needed to make sure others were aware, too.
A friend who was aware of food allergies
One day when my son was small, my wife got a frantic call from her friend Julia. A mom had dropped her child off at Julia's house for a playdate. As the mom was getting back into her car, she called out to Julia, "Oh, by the way, he has a nut allergy!" And then she drove off. No further information. Not even a phone number.
Julia is a good friend and has known our son all his life. She knew how serious a food allergy could be. She also knew that there are different kinds of tree nuts and not everyone with a nut allergy is allergic to every tree nut. And now she had a child at her house, incomplete information, and no epinephrine in case of an emergency.
How to keep children safe from allergens
My wife talked her through the crisis. There were no nuts in the house, and when she gave her guest a snack, she ensured it was nut free. And my wife promised to be on standby in case Julia needed help.
Everything went fine on the playdate. But it was a tense couple of hours for Julia. She was able to have a calm talk with the mom when she came to pick up her kid. The mom didn't seem overly concerned about her son's nut allergies. But it was the last time Julia had her child over for a play date.
The 2 kinds of allergy awareness
Our friend, Julia, was made aware—by us—that food allergies, especially nut allergies, can be life-threatening. And she was made aware that her son's friend had a nut allergy, but if accidental ingestion had occurred, her awareness might not have been enough.
That incident reminds me that there are really 2 kinds of food allergy awareness. There's a kind of long-term awareness. That involves making people aware that food allergies exist and that things like reading food labels and watching for cross-contamination are important.
Julia had that awareness. She knew there might be problems. And she knew that she needed to ask some questions, and she knew who to ask.
But there's also the short-term, immediate awareness that comes from being in a current situation. It's not just teaching others about the general issue. It's about making sure your child is safe with the people they're around. The mom who dropped off her son at Julia's house failed at this.
Creating awareness is hard, but the payoff is rewarding
As much as we were successful with our friend Julia, I want to be clear about something: creating awareness is hard.
Awareness for a caregiver of a kid with food allergies is constant. And it can be exhausting. I wouldn't want to give other caregivers the idea that one conversation is all you need, and suddenly everyone is on board. I know that doesn't happen.
Share openly and honestly with others
But it can happen over time. Those of us who are aware need to be willing to serve as resources for other people. That's how awareness spreads. By openly and honestly sharing our son's allergies and our concern for his safety with others, we create space for other parents to learn as well.
If your experience as a caregiver has been mostly hard so far, know that others have gone through the same thing, and we all understand. You might say we're aware.
How often do you connect with others who have food allergies?