It is Okay to be Mama Bear for Food Allergies

Every parent wants a child to thrive and remain protected as they explore
Every parent wants a child to thrive and remain protected as they explore

A mother intuitively knows to protect her young. It’s only natural to be a Mama Bear when it comes to protecting a child with food allergies.  A recent video of a Black Bear ‘chasing’  Yellowstone Park tourists on a road, with her cubs just a few feet behind, made me pause to reflect.

Beyond fear, the video shows our naivete about their habitat and a mother’s relationship with her cubs.

Some may say Allergy Mamas like me are too much of a Mama Bear. The side eye glances and comments from others like, “you can’t put her in a bubble” are just snapshot common experiences among some food allergy parents.

Every parent  wants to keep a child out of harm’s way. And it is that Mama Bear protective instinct we share in common as mothers. Well, until a Mama Bear questions the risk of cupcakes and ice cream at a classroom party. Then you become the only Mama Bear in the room and possibly that Black Bear in Yellowstone Park.

The first year of a  cub’s life is spent learning its survival skills from the mother before going out into its habitat. The strong will of the mother to protect her cub actually lessens as a cub prepares to leave the den – in a year. Now, let’s consider the habitat of our children.

A cougar or coyote is an easily recognized predator to a black bear. The habitat of food allergic children is vastly different. The predator is food that may contain an allergen. Not as obvious as a cougar, but the bite and exposure can be fatal.

Wherever children explore, may it be at school, field trips, restaurants, playgrounds or the home of family and friends – a food allergen threat lurks. May seem dramatic until you consider the consequences of anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening reaction that requires immediate administration of epinephrine  autoinjector (EpiPen). The signs can vary from stomach pains, vomiting, coughing, skin reactions to trouble breathing.

An EpiPen or Auvi-Q is the only tool that may help save a life from a food allergen predator.

Among epinephrine autoinjectors include Auvi-Q and EpiPen

Without a cure or treatment, the only way to safely explore is complete avoidance of any allergen – and this makes the habitat dense with uncertainty.  Some food labels lack necessary specific details of cross contact risks; this same cross contact risk can happen for home or restaurant prepared foods.

The survival skills Mama Bears must teach include avoiding certain allergens, to inspect and question any foods (including reading complicated labels, calling manufacturers) and to carry medication.

Ingredient Label

All of our children explore habitats filled with risks, uncertainties, but also with meaningful possibilities and social experiences. The only difference for kids with food allergies is a food allergen predator is always around. We can all do our part as Mama Bears to help each other protect our young through respect and understanding the survival skills they all need before leaving the den.

Kiss and tell: food allergy tips for Valentine’s Day

Long before a kiss goodnight, tell your Valentine about your food allergies. A simple question about what was eaten before a smooch may dampen the mood. But, a potential reaction can make your health and the date get real complicated.

Valentines Day Talk Food Allergies

Food proteins and particles from common allergens can stay in saliva for hours after eating.  If you’ve already eaten an offending allergen, pucker up and wait.  According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), to prevent an allergy reaction, the non-allergic person should brush his or her teeth, rinse his or her mouth, and avoid the offending food for 16 to 24 hours before kissing.

Here are a few other tips to keep a food allergic Valentine safe:

  • Sip your own drink. Sharing a glass of wine or champagne means sharing sips of saliva containing the allergen, which increases the chance of a reaction.
  •  Check the Chocolates. Boxed hearts filled with assorted chocolates can lead to heartbreak if you don’t read the labels. Avoid items with labels that state “may contain” or “also manufactured in a facility that processes” any of the common allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs, milk, soy, fish and shellfish.

There are several brands of safe sweets and you can also visit SnackSafely guide that list allergen-free candies and snacks. Try making your own safe Valentine treat. Check out the recipe for these Nut free Truffles – delish!

  •  Gifts of jewelry and perfume may cause a stink. Nickel allergies and chrome-plated and 14K and 18K gold containing nickel may irritate the skin. Strong fragrances may also trigger allergies. Use little or no perfume or cologne on the date and avoid giving fragrance as a gift.
  •  Roses are a girl’s best friend. According to ACAAI, roses, begonias, daffodils, geraniums, crocus, columbine, clematis and cactus are among flowers that carry little pollen compared to other flowers.
  •  Avoid sharing meals. Sharing a plate or utensils is another reaction risk. Put a sample of your meal on a separate plate using a clean utensil. When dining out, remember to inform the server, chef and/or restaurant manager about any food allergies when making reservations, upon arrival and when placing an order.

By the way, the same kissing rule applies to your little food allergic Valentines. My 9-year old daughter has no problem asking the “what did you eat today?” question.  I hope she continues to  take charge of her health when she begins to date. Wait, did I just say that?

It is too early to fathom and scary to imagine. The reality is young teens and adults will have to independently navigate life, managing food allergies in friendships and relationships.

An online dating network, Allergic Attraction, may help ease the awkwardness of the food allergy talk early in the dating game. Targeting primarily college students, the site promotes a social climate among friends managing food allergies. Also featured are social discussion forums focused on the common eight allergens.

Considering the recent growth of food allergies among children and adults, chances are a perfect love match may just be an allergic one.

Have a safe Valentine’s Day!


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