No sooner had I posted this, than Jane had her first allergic reaction to a nut. It couldn’t have happened at a better place: Grandma’s, where EpiPens, Benadryl and other emergency medications are always at the ready. But the reaction was scary nonetheless.
Jane’s upper lip immediately swelled to three times its normal size within seconds of coming into contact with a walnut. Luckily, she spat out the nut, saying, “I don’t like nuts!” and didn’t swallow it. We quickly rinsed out her mouth and gave her a dose of Benadryl and that was the worst of it. The swelling went down and the only thing we had to deal with was Jane’s general loopiness after the dose of antihistamine.
To be quite honest, I didn’t think that nut allergies were really a big deal. The entire Silicon Valley seems to have gone nuts over nut allergies recently and I am 100% guilty of having passed judgment on those crazed anti-nut
nuts parents on the Peninsula.
So I was wrong. Apparently, nut allergies are something serious and not akin to the typical overly anxious suburban mom’s worry about whether the organic produce she’s feeding her baby is locally-farmed or whether her perfectly healthy baby will grow up to be obese and ostracized by his peers.
And I admit (with just a slight bit of shame), that I actually chuckled when I read a school’s enrollment brochure which stated that the school was a “nut-free school.” It just sounded too extreme. Are there that many children allergic to nuts and do we really need to go so far as to ban an American all-time favorite, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich?
Okay, so maybe there is a sound medical reason behind all the nut-phobia. But still, I can’t remember a single kid from my childhood who had a nut allergy. And now it seems that everyone has a milk allergy, nut allergy or gluten allergy (along with ADD or ADHD or some other “acronymed” behavioral disorder).
Today, my own daughter not only is allergic to nuts, but milk and penicillin, too. (I confess: I, myself, am an EpiPen wielding asthmatic who needs an inhaler at the slightest hint of pet dander). So I’m not making light of life-threatening conditions, but I do wonder:
What have we done to our children to make them so allergic?
One hypothesis is that we live in over-sterilized environments that prevent our immune systems from developing properly as they were designed to back in the day when we were living in caves or on farms. Another reason may be that because we face fewer infections as a result of today’s medicines and immunizations, our bodies are now targeting other things to attack like items in the environment (hay, pollen, dust) or our diets (peanuts, milk, gluten). Still others think it is due to the amount of stress in the child’s environment, or at least that stress can greatly exacerbate allergic symptoms.
The prevalence of food allergies in general, not just nuts, has reached such proportions that there are several websites dedicated to helping parents raise their allergic children. And believe it or not, allergic children now face the additional threat of becoming targets for bullies! I kid you not.
“According to a new study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 35 percent of children over age 5 with food allergies have experienced bullying, teasing or harassment. The study, which mostly surveys the parents of these children, said those negative social experiences, which included physical and verbal incidents, happened because of food allergies.” – Elizabeth Landau, Food Allergies Make Kids a Target of Bullies
So now I am no longer wondering why kids are overly allergic nowadays. What I am wondering is why parents purposely feed into the social hysteria and consciously choose to label their child as different or special when an allergy, even a life-threatening one, shouldn’t be highlighted as a weakness or a reason to slap a neon label of “I’m different and shockingly strange,” on an unwitting child. Plain and simple, an allergy, no matter what the type, is a medical condition that needs prevention or treatment with little fanfare. Hyping up a child’s allergies does nothing for a child or her situation. Yes, education for caretakers and schools is necessary. But making a child bear the burden of a parent-created social stigma* is not.
* Believe me, kids are supremely skilled at creating their own and don’t need our helping hands. Take this high school conversation from my vault: one of the girls to first start bedding a boyfriend asked me in shock and horror when I revealed that I had asthma and needed to use an inhaler, “What do you do during sex?! Does that mean you can’t do it?!” Oh goodness me. Kids.