Two of my three kids have severe food allergies. My oldest has an allergy to peanuts, and my youngest has a mild allergy to eggs and a severe allergy to fish. Both have had to ride in ambulances to hospitals as their faces swelled after eating the allergens their bodies didn’t like. I feel incredibly lucky that neither ever stopped breathing, though my youngest did start turning blue. It’s freaky stuff.
Since we’ve been dealing with food allergies for about five years now, I’ve amassed some resources–mostly books–that have been helpful to our family. I thought I’d share them, in hopes that our experience might benefit someone else.
CHECK OUT FARE
First of all, if you get diagnosed with a food allergy, immediately sign up to receive FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) alerts and emails. FARE is a non-profit that helps to improve the quality of life and health for the millions of people with food allergies. They send out emails periodically about research and treatment developments. They also email food allergen alerts whenever a company recalls products with undisclosed allergens. So if that allegedly peanut-free cookie you just bought was actually accidentally made on equipment that also makes peanut butter cookies (and therefore may contain traces of the allergen), FARE will let you know. FARE emails are extremely helpful and informative, and they aren’t spammy.
BOOKS FOR KIDS
There aren’t a ton of choices when it comes to food allergy books for kids. I see the same ones over and over. Some are better than others…
FOOD ALLERGIES AND ME. The pictures in this book look dated, in my opinion–which is kind of crazy since it was only published in 2010. But the story is solid. It follows Jack as he goes through his typical day: having breakfast, interacting with kids at school and on the playground, visiting the allergist’s office to get tests done, and finally going to bed. The book goes on perhaps a touch too long, but it makes sense and is comprehensive and informative. It emphasizes personal safety and self-acceptance, and I like that.
THE PRINCESS AND THE PEANUT ALLERGY. This one is obviously geared more toward girls and kids with peanut allergies, so not everyone may connect with the story. Paula gets in a fight with her best friend, Regina, after Regina criticizes Paula for making too big of a deal of her peanut allergy at Regina’s birthday party. The book is well-developed, with lots of build up before food allergies are even talked about. But be aware that food allergies are presented within a context of conflict and tension. Of course all conflict is resolved in the end, but this book definitely emphasizes the “otherness” of allergy sufferers.
NUTLEY THE NUT FREE SQUIRREL. Nutley is allergic to nuts, obvz. He feels alone at first, until he realizes his friends have food allergies, too (though not all are realistic, like the dog allergic to dog bones). This book has really cute illustrations, but it’s written as a poem and the rhymes get lazy (i.e., words don’t really rhyme or the sentences are awkward). I like the book’s “We’re all in this together!” perspective, but I don’t like how the only foods the animals actually like in the end are junk foods like popcorn and cookies.
THE BUGABEES: FRIENDS WITH FOOD ALLERGIES. This is my favorite book of the bunch. Eight different bugs have eight different food allergies. The common refrain for each is “No thank you. It’s really okay. I can still have lots of fun without [this allergen] anyway.” The book is written as a poem, but the sentences and rhymes actually make sense. And the message is positive, inclusive, and optimistic–the bugs have each other to rely on, and they are able to deal with their allergies with competence and confidence. At the end of the book, there’s even an activity page for each bug and his allergy.
BOOKS FOR ADULTS
I am happy to say that the books available (for adults) on food allergies have come a long way, even in just the last five years I’ve been on the lookout for them.
HIDDEN FOOD ALLERGIES. This book focuses on healing and strengthening your body (with vitamins, supplements, healthy food choices, etc.), but it doesn’t really address living with life-threatening food allergies. The book argues that food allergy symptoms can be minimized and cured through dietary choices. The authors never even talk about anaphylaxis. While I do appreciate the suggestions for how to strengthen the immune system, let’s face it, no vitamin is going to keep my kid from going into anaphylactic shock after eating a peanut, you know? So this book is helpful but definitely limited.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR CHILD’S LIFE-THREATENING FOOD ALLERGIES. It’s a mouthful of a title, but this is a great resource to have on hand. This book gives very practical advice on how to deal with a life-threatening food allergy. The first chapter talks about what to do when your kid is having an anaphylactic reaction, and that practical approach pretty much sets the tone for the whole book. Following chapters cover common food allergy problems and situations that arise at home, in school, at play dates, at after-school sports and activities, while cooking or grocery shopping, and while traveling. The book is ten years old, but it’s still one of my favorites.
WHAT’S EATING YOUR CHILD? This one isn’t about food allergies exactly. The book takes a more holistic approach and talks about how certain food choices, habits, or deficiencies may be creating your child’s negative behavior. The author, a pediatric allergy specialist, walks through various real-life case studies involving kids–who, for example, can’t poop, have bumpy or extremely dry skin, are hyper or irritable, can’t or won’t speak, get chronic ear infections, are extremely sensitive and anxious, etc.–and then she talks about how she helped the parents tweak their kids’ diets to minimize or eliminate the unwanted behaviors or symptoms. It’s a fascinating read. I’d recommend it to all parents, even those who aren’t dealing with allergies.
FOOD ALLERGIES: A COMPLETE GUIDE FOR EATING WHEN YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. Another crazy long book title… This is the most recently published book on food allergies that I’ve read (and found useful). It is written entirely in a question and answer format, as if you are asking your doctor questions at an appointment. The format is unusual and doesn’t “flow” as well within or between chapters, but it is still comprehensive and easy to read. I’d say this one is a book to flip through and bookmark, without necessarily reading it cover to cover, front to back. Chapters answer basic questions about food allergies, anaphylaxis, chronic health problems related (or not related) to food allergies, allergic reactions, living a normal lifestyle while having a food allergy (including dealing with allergies at school), the course of food allergies over the sufferer’s lifetime, and preventing and curing food allergies. There is also a section at the end that lists resources for people dealing with food allergies. If you are looking for an introduction to food allergies, this might be the book for you.
So there you have it: my fave books on food allergies. Hopefully this helps someone out there. And I’d love to know if anyone knows of or loves any other books on the subject that I’ve missed!