Food Allergies and Parental Guilt: Would I Have Done Things Differently?

Oh where to start on this one. Speaking from personal experience, this is something I struggled with for the better part of a year after my daughter was diagnosed with her peanut and tree nut food allergies. I felt stress. I felt guilt. I felt like there’s something I could have done to prevent this. Anyone else feel like this?

Although I’ve moved past the guilt phase, a small part of me still wonders if there is something I could have done to prevent her allergies from forming. Should we have exposed her earlier and more consistently to nuts? I think part of the reason I struggle with this is because we still don’t have a concrete WHY for development. Lots of theories that all have merit, but not one factor that holds true for every single person living with food allergies.

When our son (our youngest child) was around 9 months old, the groundbreaking New England Journal of Medicine peanut study was published (February 2015). This was a randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. If you’re not familiar, here’s the link: Peanut Exposure Study

In a nutshell (pun intended:) the study evaluated strategies of peanut consumption and avoidance to determine which strategy is most effective in preventing the development of peanut allergy in infants at high risk for the allergy. They randomly assigned 640 infants with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both to consume or avoid peanuts until 5 years old. At the start, participants ranged in age between 4 months and 11 months, and were tested for peanut sensitivity via a skin-prick test.

So for the results: among the 530 infants in the intention-to-treat population who initially had negative results on the skin-prick test, the prevalence of peanut allergy at 5 years was 13.7% in the peanut avoidance group and 1.9% in the peanut consumption group. Those that were exposed to peanut early and consistently had a lower incidence of forming an allergy than those not exposed.

WOW.

Because of this study our allergist immediately tested our son for peanut allergy. Once we knew he wasn’t allergic, we started feeding him peanut butter (as well as another nut butter blend) three times per week so that he was exposed consistently. Fast-forward a year, and he’s still peanut and tree nut allergy free!

What a shift we’ve experienced in the last couple years—avoiding common allergens with our daughter until 1 year, and purposely feeding them to our son before 1 year. I suppose this is where the feelings of “coulda woulda shoulda” have come in for me. Had I been equipped with this information when she was a baby would I have exposed her earlier? Me personally, yes. Does that mean she would or would not have formed her allergies? That I’ll never know. Is it possible she’ll outgrow her allergies? Statistically we are looking at a 20% chance for peanut and a 9% chance for tree nut. Not impossible!

Over the past couple years I’ve learned to shed my guilt and focus on the things I CAN affect: educating her on the food allergies she has so that she can become her own best advocate, providing her with a variety of nutritious, safe food choices, and educating those in her world to ensure she is safe outside of our home (at school, grandmas, etc.)

The food allergy community has come SO far in the past few years, but so much more research and understanding needs to be done. I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal stories on this topic too!

Until next time,

Meg

Posted on December 18, 2015 and filed under Food Allergy Exposures.