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Sunday, February 5, 2023

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Adjusting to Allergies

by Mary Becelia

Yep, that Y chromosome sure fulfilled its destiny with a vengeance; my little boy, not even three years old yet, and possessor of three glorious conditions: eczema, asthma and nut allergies. Sign me up for a bundle of Epi-Pens, and save him a seat at the nut-free table.

Oh yes, that Y chromosome was going to be a problem, I was sure of it. As soon as I learned my second pregnancy was a boy, I knew I was in for it with regard to potential health and allergy issues. Asthma and allergies run through my husband’s family. Not to mention, my grandfather had severe asthma for ninety years. Soon after his birth, my son developed eczema, and to this day he has it behind his knees, in the creases of his ankles and on his thighs.

While some think eczema is just another word for really dry skin, it is a bit more complicated than that. In fact, according to www.kidshealth.org, “Kids who get eczema often have family members with hay fever, asthma, or other allergies. Some scientists think these children may be genetically predisposed to get eczema, which means characteristics have been passed on from parents through genes that make a child more likely to get it. About half of the kids who get eczema will also someday develop hay fever or asthma themselves.” Additionally, while eczema is not an allergy, some sources posit a relationship between infantile eczema and food allergies.

Well, I figured, we could live with eczema. Judicious use of generic Eucerin cream, plus a bit of hydrocortisone from time to time has kept it largely under control and he has not seemed to be too bothered by it.

Then, every cold or ear infection my son got seemed to turn to pneumonia or bronchiolitis. We were in the doctor’s office nearly every week, it seemed, and the co-pays were adding up. After something like visit #227 for the year, our pediatrician referred us to a local allergist for testing and for confirmation of what we already suspecting: asthma. Sure enough, the allergist agreed that our son probably had asthma, and we left his office last March with the necessary equipment and prescriptions to start a long-term, regular regimen of breathing treatments. The good news? He came up negative on all the environmental allergens they tested him for.

When our son passed his second birthday, we decided that we’d try a dab of peanut butter here and there, spread thinly on toast, with jelly in a sandwich, and even a few cashews with no problem. He may have that pesky eczema and mild asthma, but at least we’d been spared the dreaded nut allergies that seem so prevalent in kids today.

I got a call from the friend who watches my son for me on the days that I work. “I gave him some Nutella, which has hazelnuts in it, and he broke out in hives and has been coughing a bit,” she continued, “is it okay with you if I give him half a Benadryl?” The next week or so passed uneventfully. After a couple of days, he had some more peanut butter, with no ill effect, and it was only very gradually that the notion dawned on me that maybe I’d better get him checked for food allergies. When I called the allergist’s office and described his reaction to the Nutella, the receptionist did not delay in giving me an appointment. I started to feel just a tad bit uneasy, like maybe there was something going on here. Maybe he WAS allergic to tree nuts.

You guessed it, the little guy got the prick test. He was allergic to the list of tree nut, and he even had a mild reaction to peanuts. I was simultaneously filled with relief that I got Robert tested before anything dreadful happened, and shame that I was so slow-witted about the whole thing. Cancel my nomination for Mother of the Year and crown me Queen of Denial instead.

I am only a week into this new stage of life, as a mom with a child who, according his allergist, has “a potentially serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to nuts.” I’ve got the Epi-pens, I’ve got a stash of Benadryl, and I’m starting to forge a bond with those other moms who have kids with nut allergies. Can you all make room for me, too, at the nut-free table?

Mary Becelia, of Stafford, is a mother of two (her daughter is allergy and asthma free!) and works part-time at the University of Mary Washington.

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