By: Gina Clowes, National Director, Training and Community Outreach
I watched in horror as hives and welts crawled up the side of my (then) two year-old son’s face.
I had snacked on a granola bar that contained milk and nuts while out running errands. When I returned home, I kissed his little face as I greeted him. I’d forgotten to brush my teeth.
Fortunately his reaction did not progress.
My guilt was a different story. The only thing worse than seeing your child suffer an allergic reaction is knowing that you caused it.
The good news is that we can learn valuable lessons after an allergic reaction. What went wrong? What was handled correctly? And in case it happens again, what can we do next time to make things easier to cope with?
This is a time to recover, regroup and plug any holes in our routines or accommodation plans. The following tips can help you get back on track in the hours and days after an allergic reaction.
If you’ve been to the emergency room or to see a doctor, make sure you are clear on when and how to treat a reaction and a potential biphasic (secondary) reaction. It’s also important to make sure you understand your doctor’s instructions for any new medications (e.g. steroids or antihistamines.)
Refill Epinephrine Auto-Injector Prescriptions
Refill your current prescription if you used an auto-injector to treat the reaction. If you do not have a current prescription or refills available, get a new prescription at the emergency room or from your allergist or physician.
Save the food and packaging
If you suspect cross-contact or mislabeling, save the food (freeze if perishable) and the packaging. Later, you can contact the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for mislabeled food or the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) to discuss having the food analyzed for possible contamination with allergens. Learn more about reporting reactions and mislabeled foods.
Notify your allergist and primary care doctor
Make copies of the relevant emergency room paperwork to share with your physicians. It is important for your allergist or primary care doctor to know how the exposure happened, the severity of the reaction, and how it was treated.
Update the Emergency Care Plan
Every person at risk for anaphylaxis should have a Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan. If the recent reaction uncovered a new allergy or was different than previous reactions, the instructions on when to use epinephrine or other medications may change. Be sure to discuss this important information with your allergist and have the plan updated accordingly.
Inform School or Day Care Provider
Discuss your child’s reaction with key personnel at the school or day care including the cause of the reaction, if known. Follow up with any new recommendations for accommodations needed (for example: does your child need to avoid a new allergen?) as well as an updated emergency care plan if applicable.
Reinforce what went right
Did your child report her symptoms right away? Did the teacher and nurse work together quickly to identify and treat the reaction? Were the auto-injectors immediately available? Wonderful! Let them know. Be grateful that at the end of the day, your child is okay.
Rest and recuperate
If you’re feeling anxious, sad, angry or completely drained, you’re not alone. Most of us are not medical professionals and (even for those who are) allergic reactions can be terrifying. Do what’s best in the days that follow. If keeping a low profile, (dinners at home, minimizing outings) feels best, so be it.
Get back on track
On the other hand, don’t wait too long to get back on the horse of normal life. One of my son’s reactions happened after a Halloween party. Trick-or-treating was a few days later. As much as I wanted to lock him keep him in his room forever, I didn’t want to send the message that this activity was no longer okay for him. So with a few extra precautions, and a few prayers, off we went. I’m happy to report it was a fun and safe evening for him.
Forgive but don’t forget
Forgive whoever is responsible for the mistakes that led to the reaction, you included. Most people managing food allergies have slipped at one time or another. Continue to educate, advocate and remain vigilant. Clarify or add accommodations or procedures if needed. Try not to hold a grudge or feel guilty. Figure out what went wrong and how it can be avoided in the future, and then let it go.
Gina Clowes is the National Director of Training and Community Outreach for FARE.