Over the past almost 3 years, since Miss J’s first anaphylactic reaction at 5 months old I have often been asked “What is a food allergy” by family, friends, interested strangers who saw me wiping down shopping trolley seats.
Over those 3 years my answer has differed greatly.
Initially I was too emotional (still am a lot of the time!) and I would say “I’m not really sure but it means some foods can be really dangerous for Miss J”.
I then started researching allergies, and if you asked my husband, family, prior co-workers & bosses, I am a crazy researcher, I love finding out why, and when we were presented with Miss J’s food allergies my research went into overdrive!
I started to gain a better understanding of what was happening in the body of someone with a food allergy, when they consumed their allergen. It frightened the hell out of me, and I think to somehow protect myself from the reality of it all, I started trying to explain the technical side of a reaction to enquirers. I was delving into mast cells, antigens, histamine, IgE, etc, I could see they didn’t really understand it but it stopped the questioning and I didn’t start crying, bonus!
Just recently I read a great, easily understood description of what is a food allergy, by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, ACAAI.
The ACAAI describes it as :
“An allergy occurs when your body’s natural defenses overreact to exposure to a particular substance, treating it as an invader and sending out chemicals to defend against it.”
So in the case of Miss J, at her first anaphylactic reaction at 5 months old, I fed her a mix of mango, pear (both of which she had eaten before, prepared at home), and unbeknownst to me, milk powder (I had never fed her a pre-packaged food, but she was starving and we were at the supermarket, so I thought why not!).
Miss J had 2 mouthfuls of the mango/pear/milk mix and started crying, her nose started running, her lips began swelling, her face went red began to swell, her eyes swelling shut, and she was inconsolable. I raced to the hospital, and she was given adrenalin and steroids, and put onto oxygen. She recovered with no ill effects.
I now know that her body overreacted to the milk powder, treating it as a poison or invader, and then sent out a surge of chemicals to her system which started the anaphylactic reaction.
I plan to write more about our allergy story soon, and will update this post with a link.
Do you know how to explain a food allergy in laymans terms? I would love to hear how you explain it.
Till next time,
Mel – This Happ-y Mumma