Tips and Advice for Grandparents from JKP author Charlotte E. Thompson.
Grandparents who have a grandchild with severe allergies
tell me they live in fear of having the child eat something
to which their grandchild is very allergic. Even when grandparents carefully check the labels on everything a grandchild eats, there can always be an ingredient that is not listed. Serving simple foods with known ingredients can lessen the anxiety. As the child grows older, he or she can be taught to ask questions about foods and learn what is safe and what is not safe to eat. The child must also be taught not to trade foods with friends.
Taking an allergic grandchild on a trip can be a real problem, but there are ways to get help. The U.S. travel agency, Grandtravel, has pamphlets they can send and they will also plan a trip to keep a grandchild safe from harmful foods. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network can help with pamphlets and information, and their website is www.foodallergy.org. Eating in a restaurant can be a problem. Calling ahead of time to a restaurant or stopping in to talk to the owner about a grandchild’s food allergies can be helpful.
A child with severe allergies should always wear a bracelet, such as those than can be purchased from MedicAlert and similar companies. The bracelets list the child’s allergies and give a number to call for information. All family members should be aware of the allergies and know what to do in an emergency. Babysitters and child-care staff should also be alerted, as should teachers, and other people with whom a child spends time. If a child goes off to camp, careful investigation is needed about the medical care and the closest medical facilities. It would also be wise to speak with the camp director or nurse.
Epinephrine can be lifesaving if a child has a severe allergic reaction and comes in the form of an Epi-Pen in the United States. Similar products are available worldwide, I am sure. An Epi-Pen should be available in the home, grandmother’s purse, the car, at school, and at a relative’s or a good friend’s house, if the grandchild spends a lot of time there. Expiration dates need to be checked to sure they are always current. Grandparents who are fearful of giving an injection can take an orange or grapefruit to their doctor’s office and get the nurse to show them how to give injections.
Any child with severe allergies should have seen a pediatric allergist and be under his or her supervision and care. Often allergy injections given over a long period of time can help decrease the severity of the allergy. Sometimes, too, the doctor can find out that foods thought to cause a problem were not dangerous after all. The foods most responsible for allergic reactions are: milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, cashews, and almonds. Keeping a food diary for a few days could help sort out what is causing a problem.
It is important, too, that general health needs are not overlooked. Every child needs a yearly complete physical examination, as well as a complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, and tuberculin skin test. Often these are overlooked.
It is comforting to know that allergies usually lessen with age, but caution is always advised. It is important that grandparents treat allergies in a matter-of-fact way, so their own anxiety does not make the grandchild anxious.
Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D. is a pediatrician and specialist in children’s muscle diseases. She founded and directed the Center for Handicapped Children in San Francisco for 23 years and has worked as a consultant for six pediatric neuromuscular programs. She is a mother of two and a grandmother and lives in California. She is the author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.