I have been blessed with two healthy children. My young kids have never required surgery, take no daily medications, and are growing “big and strong” (as the song goes). However, on a beautiful mid-April afternoon, I found out unexpectedly that my son had an unknown medical condition; a condition that nearly took his life in a matter of minutes.
When I came through the door on that Friday afternoon, everyone was sitting on the couch and awaiting my arrival for big hugs (a daddy’s dream!). They all looked a little flushed, as Dana said they just came in from playing outside on that warm spring day. Carter and Emma Grace each had a juice, and I noted they were eating some mixed nuts. I gave this no thought at the time and headed upstairs to change my clothes. While upstairs I heard Dana ask “Are you okay?” so I came downstairs. My son had vomitted in the bathroom and we noted areas of hives on his skin. Immediately, concern of an allergy came over me. As an ENT, I was most concened about his breathing (as an anaphylactic reaction often causes airway obstruction), but he had no signs of any airway problem. In my mind, this meant that there was no real acute danger of anaphylaxis. I proceeded to give him Benadryl and he laid back on the couch to relax.
Dana and I continued to watch him closely, always asking about his throat (to ensure the airway was fine) to which he always responded “I’m fine”. However, approximately 30 minutes later he stood up and staggered across the room to me and said “Daddy, I can’t see”. I immediately knew this was from the reaction and he needed acute medical treatment of which I did not have at my home. Living only a few miles from the local ER, I put him in the car and called the staff ER physician as I drove there as fast as I could. I parked and ran in there carrying him as fast as I could. The ER staff was awaiting our arrival and ready (I am so thankful of the acute care I received at HMH that day). His initial blood pressure was 65/30 (you probably know that normal is around 120/80). He got 2 doses of Epinephrine, along with Benadryl, Ranitidine and Prednisone. His vital signs were now normal, and he was stable.
However, I was a mess. I knew we were only a matter of minutes of his blood pressure dropping further and his heart going into an abnormal rhythm, then developing cardiac arrest. Only a few more minutes and my son would have died.
Afterwards he was evaluated by an allergist, where blood testing showed Carter had a severe allergy to peanuts, cashews, and pistachios. We removed all nuts from our home and began to read labels of all foods. Our pantry was raided, getting rid of anything that could have been processed with tree nuts or peanuts. Our dining out routine changed. It now began by speaking to the chef to request glove changes and preparing Carter’s food seperately. For a family that loves food, this allergy brought on anxiety with every meal. To say this allergy changed our life was an understatment.
As Dana and I researched the topic of food allergies, we realized that we were not alone in this situation. Severe food allergies are not only common, but becoming more common. It is estimated that 1 in 13 children have a severe food allergy (the incidence has increaed by 50% in the past two decades). This means that, on average, there are 1 or 2 kids in each class at school that have a severe food allergy. Eight foods account for roughly 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish typically account for the severe reactions. Even a trace amount of the allergen can induce a reaction. There is no cure for these severe allergies, only a lifetime of avoidance.
I share this experience to educate the public. While most food allergies, such as most reactions to wheat and milk for example, are not life-threatening, severe food allergies can cause death within a matter of minutes.
Since this typically is noted in childhood, having Epinephrine available at schools could be life-saving. For this reason, advocates are encouraging Congress to pass a bill that will encourage and allow public schools to keep EpiPens available for emergencies. Please take a moment and go to the website below, then call or write your congressman, letting them know you are in favor of this bill to protect our children.
If you have any comments or questions, please email me.