Food allergies are increasingly common in Canada (more than 2.5 million Canadians have them), but when it's your own child diagnosed with one, it's scary, isolating, and overwhelming. My son was an infant when we discovered he was allergic to many foods, but allergies can happen at any age. When they do, it's difficult to see the positive in a very life-threatening situation, but as someone who has dealt with these allergies for almost six years, I promise it'll get easier.
I spoke to some members of some allergy support groups on Facebook, and they all have wonderful advice for parents dealing with newly diagnosed allergies. As you learn to adjust to your new normal, you'll find your groove and define your own comfort level with managing food allergies. You'll also find that peoples' opinions vary greatly, so it's important to read as much as you can and make the best educated decisions you can for yourself.
Here are some great tips from those in the allergy trenches:
"Learn to read labels, contact companies, and become a member of a great online community who will support you and teach you how to stay safe."
In Canada, if a product contains one of the top eight allergens, it must be listed on the label. However, "may contain" is a voluntary statement. This means that a product could be made on lines shared with a peanut product, and the company is not obligated to add an allergy disclaimer to the label. And that means cross-contamination risks vary, and are very real threats. Many people call companies directly to inquire about manufacturing lines and safety. You can always reach out to brands by finding their customer service information on their websites. And read the labels every single time. Click here to find out why making assumptions is dangerous.
"Take a moment and breathe. Know that you can navigate this world by educating yourself."
"Believe that with effort and gained knowledge, you can handle this."
To me, this is perhaps the most important part. It's the fear of the unknown that terrifies us with allergies. How safe need we be? What if? What then? How? Instead of relying on anecdotal stories, find studies and science-based facts to rely on. They're not always foolproof, but they're the safest place to start. Education gives you power. You'll always find conflicting studies, so rely on your allergist -- that's their job! Don't feel bad about asking them a trillion questions. They've gone to school a long time to prepare them for this job. Trust them.
"Find a buddy who is in the same boat. Ask lots of questions, but use your judgment. And most of all DON'T FREAK OUT! It's manageable, I promise."
"It will feel really overwhelming at first. You almost go through stages of grief -- until you hit acceptance. It will always be in the back of your mind, but it won't have you paralyzed with fear."
Support groups are so important for this! You may have local allergy groups where parents get together, or you may prefer online ones. Both will be sources of support and information for you. And you can always feel free to reach out to me personally, too. I have many readers who email me regularly, and I love hearing all your stories and questions. I'm no doctor, of course, just another parent navigating the tricky allergy waters. You can also join my Irritated by Allergies Facebook page to find information and support.
"It's not your fault. It's not the result of anything you did or didn't do, neither now nor when you were pregnant."
There are countless studies being done that make guesses about the root cause of allergies. But the fact is that for you, right now, the causes don't really matter. Managing allergies on a daily basis is what takes priority. But know this: you're not to blame, no matter what random studies or supermarket strangers may suggest.
"Buy a bread machine and mixer. Baking basic breads and cakes is easy, safe and way healthier."
Learning to bake or make allergy-safe foods is easy. It's a lot easier than you may think. Click here to find simple substitutions for many allergens. Sure, it takes more time to bake muffins than to grab some off the shelf, but you're not only ensuring safety, you're also removing all those added preservatives and chemicals that are in a lot of pre-packaged goods from your family's diet, and that's a silver lining, for sure! (Also, I find we spend far less on home baked goods than pre-made stuff!)
"Breathe. It gets much easier."
It really, really does get easier. The worry never really ends, but it becomes second nature to deal with allergies. Reach out, ask questions, find support, and educate yourself and those around you.
It'll be okay.
RELATED: Food Allergies Can Happen Anytime