Why 2020 Was a Good Year for My Food Allergy Family

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allergy familySocial distancing has a lot of downsides. From not seeing family to trying to work from home, missed social opportunities for my toddler, to having to take time off from working on my Ph.D. (and on, and on, and on), there have been so many ways this year has felt like a loss.

And then, there were the wins.

I should note, my family has been spared the worst of 2020. I wish I could take back all the harm the virus (and the fallout from the virus) has caused others. But I also know many people have said we should forget the year altogether. This piece was written in response to that, rather than out of callous disregard to the suffering that so many in the world have experienced.

Some of our biggest wins came because we are a food allergy family.

Social distancing means never having to worry about packing an allergy-safe lunch for school. Not worrying about what my kid might pick up at the playground or whose lunch he could grab at the lunch table. Family and friends aren’t likely to bring unsafe food into our home. They haven’t been to our home all year, for the most part.

After initial problems finding safe brands due to panic buying, managing our allergies has felt unusually easy. We dictate what comes into our home and what my child comes into contact with. Not leaving our home much comes with that amazing benefit. No worrying about a new brand of lip gloss causing anaphylaxis, that’s for sure. So, of course, my food allergy mom anxiety has been lessened!

But there are other wins. We also began allergen desensitization this year. We started with the allergen my child is less reactive to cashew. For those who don’t know, desensitization (also often referred to as oral immunotherapy) consists of having a patient ingest tiny amounts of their allergen daily for an extended period, with a gradual increase in dose.

If this sounds dangerous to you, you’re right; it can be. That is why this therapy is done under strict medical supervision, with regular doctor visits for increases and frequent monitoring. In other words, please don’t try this at home! But for patients like my child, it can be life-changing.

We’ve since moved on to maintenance for cashew (which means a stable dose daily to maintain protection). We have started treatment for the very allergen that resulted in anaphylaxis last year: sesame. If someone had told me sesame desensitization would be an option a year ago, I don’t know that I would have believed them. If something as minor as cross-contact with sesame in a tiny bit of lip gloss on my son’s cheek could potentially kill him, how would it be possible for him to eat that same thing daily?

Thanks to an incredible medical team, my child will go back to preschool at much less risk of a severe reaction than he was when he had to leave school in March. Desensitization is not a cure, but it does protect against the worst that food allergies dish out (no pun intended), severe reactions from accidental ingestion, and reactions due to cross-contact.

We don’t know if the sesame treatment will be successful, and if my child were to have to stop daily cashew dosing, he would likely lose all protection to that, too. But for right now, being home has granted us the ability to do this therapy without having to work around my child’s school schedule (since you can’t be active for 2 hours after a dose on our protocol to avoid a reaction).

Sure, 2020 has been a loss in a lot of ways. But this year is not a loss. It has given us one of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for; a safer life for my son.

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Erin is the mother of one sweet, rambunctious toddler and wife to a talented chef. Professionally, she is a former special educator and preschool teacher, and is currently a cognitive neuroscience researcher and Ph.D candidate in Cognitive Science in Education with specializations in neuroscience, cognitive development, and neurodiversity/autism. She holds masters degrees in cognitive science, and neuroscience in education, from Teachers College, Columbia University, and undergraduate degrees in special education (with an additional concentration in elementary education and a minor in English) and early childhood education. As the wife of a chef, food is a huge part of her family culture, and she enjoy both cooking and baking. Some of her other hobbies include hiking, traveling, jogging, meditation, animal rescue, playing piano and guitar, crafting, reading, and of course, writing. You can follow her parenting journey and pick up tips on great kids activities here on Westchester Moms Blog, as well as her website (www.themindfullyscientificmama.com), Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts.

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