By Jackie White
The recent Coronavirus pandemic has put the world on notice. It has taken much of our liberties away for the time being. We are at times living with high anxiety and other times maybe just a low level alert. We have had to really change the way we have been living our lives. Because many of the new ways of living life have been very similar to how food allergic families already live, this pandemic has presented an opportunity for the food allergic community to illustrate to those not affected by food allergies what it takes to keep a food allergic person safe.
Where is it?
Food allergy families live in a world where miniscule protein bits haunt them. It can take as little as a pin head of an allergen protein to cause a reaction, so they are always guarding against exposure. (Sound familiar?) Unseen food allergens and viruses can be equally insidious and dangerous.
The image that many food allergic families share is to imagine there is rat poison sprinkled randomly everywhere and you don’t know if what you touch will accidentally get into your body and create a horrible reaction. That graphically explains how scary the world can be for a person who has food allergies.
This can be a similar feeling for those who may fall into an at-risk group during this coronavirus outbreak. Questions for the at-risk group and the food allergic person are the same Where is it? Is it on something I am touching? Is it going to make me sick? And they run on a constant loop in their heads.
Rigid Routines and Heightened Awareness
The coronavirus has many of us following a much more rigid routine than we have ever before. We are wearing masks and gloves in public. We are limiting time out of our homes. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging those not in our safe bubble. Food allergic people too, live tightly to their routines. Checking ingredients on packages every time they eat something is mandatory. Being aware of allergens in their space or assessing for possible cross contamination. There is no other choice for the food allergic person than to always be on guard.
Hand Washing and No Face Touching
Food allergy families have always known the importance of through hand washing with soap. It is the only way to remove food proteins from hands. Hand sanitizer works well against germs, but not removing surface proteins. People with food allergies learn to limit touching their face because they can easily transfer an allergen from a surface to their mouth and cause a reaction. These days during the coronavirus outbreak, the general population is re-learning the importance of handwashing and how to do it properly. They have also been instructed to not touch their face to reduce the chance of germ transmission.
We are all quarantining to avoid catching the coronavirus and spreading the virus. For parents of food allergic kids, quarantining their food allergic kid to avoid any accidental exposure is not reasonable, but likely has crossed their minds. Some kids are homeschooled to reduce exposure especially at young ages. It is a scary proposition to let your FA child roam the world that is filled with things that can cause a potentially fatal reaction in their child.
Today many of us are feeling anxiety because the unknown of the pandemic is scary and uncertain. 57% of kids with food allergies and 75% of their parents experience anxiety regularly. Adding the threat of coronavirus to having a food allergic child can amplify the anxiety. Questions like what if my child has a reaction and has to go into the emergency room? And if they do, will they be exposed to the virus? Many of the food allergic kids also have asthma, which places them in a high-risk category, which takes the anxiety up yet another notch. It’s scary!
No Cure or Prevention
There is no cure or prevention for food allergies, so avoiding the offending allergen is absolutely necessary to keep safe. At this point there is not a cure or prevention for coronavirus and so we have to avoid contact surfaces and people who may be carrying it. Thankfully, we are going to great lengths to control and eradicate it from our country. Food allergy research is making some headway and therapies like oral immunotherapy have assisted in managing the condition to some degree.
Soon, all of this lockdown for coronavirus will be in the past and people will return their lives. For food allergic families, the vigilance stays in place. The constant monitoring and anxiety will continue. A level of ok-ness will settle in, but until there is a cure, these families will be on high-alert.
Hopefully, after reading this, you will understand why living with food allergies is difficult and stressful. If you can, please extend some support and thoughtfulness when a food allergic child is in your kid’s class or is a neighbor or teammate. For more information on food allergies go to FARE’s website foodallergy.org
One important note for food allergic families: Due to the coronavirus, the food allergy emergency plan protocols have changed. Go to foodallergy.org for more information and follow up with your allergist on the proper protocol to follow in the event of an emergency during these times.
Thanks from a food allergy mom!
Stay safe and Shine On!
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.