Evelyn Hannon: Aging Disgracefully


Caring for My Allergic Granddaughter

Because Having A Granddaughter with Severe Allergies Scares Me Silly

Caring for My Allergic Grandaughter

As Journeywoman, a female travel journalist who has crisscrossed the world solo, I am considered quite brave by my readers. However, eight years ago when it came to caring for my toddler granddaughter, Jessie, I was scared silly. Frightened enough that I really had to build up my courage to be left alone with her.

You see, when she was just a toddler, Jessie was diagnosed with a severe allergy to fish and nuts.

I knew that eating either of those could bring on allergic reactions. Reactions that might vary from mild skin irritations and hives to breathing difficulties and, loss of consciousness. I understood that symptoms could sometimes get worse very quickly and the most severe reaction, called anaphylaxis, could be fatal.

Thinking rationally, I knew what fish and nuts looked like and knew how to avoid them but, I was still petrified that I would inadvertently offer my sweet granddaughter something that would bring on an attack that I could do nothing to stop. It was crazy, unreasonable fear and anxiety; a personal problem I had to work hard to manage. During that process I learned that there definitely are many safeguards in place to protect allergy sufferers from harm.
I didn't do the work alone; my daughter Erica was pro-active in educating our full extended family. We invited a representative from Anaphylaxis Canada to her house to talk to us. What a smart move! Erica's living room became a classroom and we were all sponges soaking up the reassuring ways we could protect Jessie when she came to visit at our homes. 
The most important thing I learned was to read food labels very carefully. Was there a chance of even trace amounts of the allergen contained in the cereal, the cookies or any food product I was considering? To this day if I am the least bit concerned about any ingredient on a box or bottle I call the company or check the company's website to verify the safety of the product. And just because the last box checked out, I never assume that the new box of the same product is fine, too. New, inappropriate (for Jessie) ingredients might have been added.
I was taught to never, ever shop at bulk food stores; there is a huge chance of food cross-contamination. Picture someone using a scoop that was dipped into the peanut bin and leaving that scoop in the flour that you are now buying. It's a recipe for big trouble. In my own home all my dishes and utensils are washed in hot water in the dishwasher so they are safe. I keep one pot specifically for Jessie. No fish or peanut sauce or the like has ever been cooked in it. 
However, the best, and in the end, most reassuring thing I remember about that evening so many years ago was our introduction to the EpiPen Auto-Injector. We were told that when allergy symptoms begin to spiral out of control, you must act immediately. This pre-filled, auto-injector allows you to give the sufferer an injection of epinephrine quickly which will help  relax the muscles in the airways to make breathing easier. The epinephrine also helps to reverse the rapid and dangerous decrease in blood pressure. From there you get the person to the nearest hospital the fastest way possible. For me it would be to call 911.
Though I did say that knowing about EpiPen was the most reassuring thing about that training evening, the thought of injecting a little one in the mid-outer thigh initially made me so anxious I thought I would weep. I needn't have reacted so poorly. EpiPen has created a training device available at their website, EpiPen.ca, that works in the same way as EpiPen but it has no needle and contains no medication. We spent a good deal of time practicing on each other that evening and getting used to how the injection is done. My heart felt lighter knowing that I was better prepared to deal with an emergency should my granddaughter need me. And I am relieved that although we hope never, ever to have to use it, Jessie, now almost ten, never leaves the house without her EpiPen on a fashionable belt around her waist.
As my grandkiddies reach birthday milestones, I like to take them on a short journey, just the two of us. Jessie's time is coming up and Grandma is reviewing the ways I can protect her as we travel.
I found some wonderful travel tips on both Anaphylaxis.ca and EpiPen.ca.

10 Tips for Travelling with Kids who have Severe Allergies

  1. Be sure to subscribe to the free EpiPen Newsletter. Their Spring Issue was great, all about eating out if you have allergies.
  2. Prior to travelling contact the airline or train to find out what their policies regarding passengers with special needs are.
  3. Be sure to carry more than one EpiPen Auto-Injector with you. Check that neither is expired.
  4. When travelling by air or train, carry your EpiPen in your hand luggage, easily accessible.
  5. If you are leaving the country have a doctor's letter prescribing EpiPen and have the patient's name listed in the letter. Customs may need to see it.
  6. Make sure you have appropriate medical insurance.
  7. Bring your own safe food and snacks onboard the train or plane.
  8. Wash your tray table with anti-bacterial wipes and cover it with a cloth napkin from home.
  9. If travelling to a country where you don't speak the language, have someone who can, write a note explaining the severity of your child's allergies and what their food needs are.
  10. Arrive prepared with names of hospitals close to where you are staying. You can find help with this at IAMAT.org.
Look out world. Journeywoman and Journeybabe are now prepared with all the information and possible medical help we might need in an emergency. We're getting ready to rock and roll!


Severe allergies are on the rise in Canada.
We teamed up with EpiPen so you can arm yourself with information and be prepared if a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs.
You can find out more about life-threatening allergies and read stories from other parents on our A Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Kids with Severe Allergies page.