Experiencing Anaphylaxis

When our son, Morgan, was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies, we were lucky that he had ‘only’ previously experienced a mild reaction to touching peanut butter and had experienced a moderate reaction to his MMR vaccine. The combination of these two events caused our family care physician to realize that Morgan’s allergic reactions were beyond his medical training. He sent us to an allergist who diagnosed Morgan with several life threatening food allergies.

By following up unidentified sources of mild to moderate reactions with blood and skin prick tests, we discovered Morgan had more and more food allergies – all likely to cause anaphylaxis. At 10 years old, he had a diagnosis of peanut, tree nut, sesame and shellfish allergies. Some of these he hadn’t even eaten – he had only touched them!

At 3 years old, he had tested negative to fish, which allowed us to falsely assume he could eat trout on a camping trip the summer before his 5th grade year in school. This ended with the life altering experience of anaphylaxis. You can read about Morgan’s story here and about my husband’s story of the camping trip here (go about half way down the page).

For anyone with diagnosed food allergies, there is a possibility of anaphylaxis. Those at the highest risk for life-threatening food-induced anaphylaxis and resulting fatality are adolescents and young adults; people with known food allergy and a previous history of anaphylaxis; and people with asthma, especially with poorly controlled symptoms. Peanuts and tree nuts cause the majority of fatalities from food-induced anaphylaxis. Fatalities are also associated with delayed use or improper dosing of epinephrine.

Our son is now 17 years old, with a previous experience of anaphylaxis, has asthma (controlled at the moment), and has peanut and tree nut allergy. He has several strikes against him, so he ALWAYS carries his two EpiPens! He was old enough when he experienced anaphylaxis that he well remembers the symptoms. Some children who experienced anaphylaxis as a baby may not remember the experience. By the time they get older, they forget why their food allergies are a big deal. If your child is in this category, help them to remember by discussing with your child and your allergist why food allergies need to be taken seriously. We’ve found that doctors can get points across that we parents never can.

Your child may not yet have experienced anaphylaxis, in fact only 38.7% of children with self-reported food allergy have. This is another sub-set of food allergy patients. Sadly, they are frequently the families we read about who neglected to carry an EpiPen with them any more. Or they didn’t read a food label and just figured a product was safe. Or they never realized how serious food allergies are. Then, the child experiences anaphylaxis for the first time and is not prepared with medication to counteract the effect of the allergen.

For those of you who have experienced anaphylaxis with your child – and believe me it feels that way! – I don’t have to explain the terror of the event. I felt as if our world had tipped over. I just read the Summer 2013 edition of Allergic Living in which Gina Clowes, Parenting Coach, wrote about how to help your child after an anaphylactic reaction. It’s a great read and I’d highly suggest it.

While it’s difficult to move on after experiencing anaphylaxis, we felt it was important to allow our son to continue to live his life – go to school, participate in Boy Scouts and go on camping trips again. We also are keenly aware of what can happen with just ONE BITE of an allergen! We live and learn. And Morgan ALWAYS carries his 2 EpiPens just in case!