Dealing with allergies can be an every day struggle, but one local parent says “management” is key to living a normal life.
Kirsty Bradley’s three-year-old son Callum has a nut and egg allergy, which was first diagnosed after he reacted to a pea-sized amount of scrambled egg at the age of just seven months.
Having previously being diagnosed with a dairy allergy a month prior – which he has since grown out of – Kirsty knew to be careful with certain allergens when weaning and had only given Callum a small amount of egg.
However, even this tiny quantity soon resulted in sudden vomiting, hives and rash all over Callum’s body.
“I’m so glad I didn’t give him more,” explained Kirsty. “I recognised that it was a reaction, so I gave him an antihistamine and phoned an ambulance.
“At hospital Callum was very unwell, continued vomiting and came up in a bright red rash after the hives, but with more antihistamines and a steroid medication he was OK after a few hours.”
Speaking about dealing with food allergies as part of every day life, Kirsty said one of the many difficulties they face is eating outside of their family home, where the risk of cross-contamination is much greater and where others are likely to hand out food without realising its dangers.
“Nearly all events are food based,” explained the Omagh mother. “But if you have common sense, are careful and aware, then it should be absolutely fine.”
Even at only three-years-old, Callum is very aware certain foods give him “a sore tummy” and will always ask, “Can I have that?” or “Is it safe for me?”.
But to ensure Callum always feels part of any occasion, Kirsty never leaves home without food alternatives such as snacks and treats for him.
The mother of two cannot praise those at Omagh Early Years Centre enough for “pulling out all the stops” for Callum, making sure he is never treated different to any other child.
Even during their weekly baking class, the staff always ensure the chosen dish is suitable for all the children.
Callum is not alone in his allergies, millions of people around the world suffer from food allergies, with 20 per-cent of the UK population affected by one or more allergic disorder.
Despite this, Kirsty said one of her many frustrations with managing Callum’s condition are the ‘may contain’ labels on food packaging, which makes choosing food products a very difficult and lengthy process.
“Packets of actual peanuts say ‘May contain nuts’ but then so does some meat packaging,” explained Kirsty. “So we have to make a judgement call on which companies and brands are just protecting themselves but have gone too extreme, and where the real risks are.
She added, “It can be exhausting”.
Kirsty says allergies are “not something to apologise for”, they are a medical condition. As this week is Allergy Awareness Week, Kirsty wants to highlight the fine line between apathy and anxiety with regards to the condition.
“People are nearly in denial that something like an egg, a mundane, every day object could be a problem for Callum,” Kirsty explained.
“But then some people are so petrified and nervous to even serve us if we are out for dinner and I mention allergies.
“Sometimes it does upset me, not the situation Callum is in, but people’s reactions to it,” she added.
As a parent of a child with food allergies, Kirsty’s greatest worry is that Callum would take an anaphylactic reaction without someone recognising what was happening.
“You hope it won’t happen but you have to be prepared in case it does,” she said.
Obviously a huge concern for any parent that their child may eat something they shouldn’t, Kirsty and her husband Aiden are always ready with an Allergy Action Plan and medication (Antihistamines and Epipens) in case Callum suffers a reaction.
“Nobody wants to use an Epipen but it’s there if needed,” she explained.
“It’s not the Epipen that should be intimidating or frightening, it’s the reaction and what is happening inside the body that’s the scary part.
“The Epipen is the solution. Be prepared to use it.”
• Kirsty is hoping to start a peer support group for parents of children with food allergies.
Those interested in joining or getting involved can contact her on 07826 431 431.