In the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy, and 600,000 (1 in 100) with coeliac disease.*
This is huge and so it’s no surprise that so many of us either have a food allergy or know someone that does.
Living with food allergies can be extremely hard. Simple day to day activities can be a minefield for those living with food allergies. Eating out, food shopping, catching a train… Will someone on the train be eating nuts? Will the restaurant be able to cater to our allergies? All things that become hard when you have a food allergy.
Food allergies and me
I suffer with food allergies personally – I am allergic to dairy, sulphites and have an intolerance to gluten. As well as suffering personally, I’m also an allergy mum. My three boys all had cows milk protein allergies (CMPA) as babies as well as other food allergies. Thankfully my two older boys have now outgrown the milk allergy and my youngest is following the milk reintroduction plan and so far is tolerating small amounts. My eldest (now 7) has a nut allergy requiring us to carry epi pens where ever we go. Being his parents it is a huge worry and something that we will have to deal with forever as it’s extremely unlikely that he will grow out of his allergy.
Before we start lets remind ourselves that allergies, intolerances and being coeliac are all different conditions which have different symptoms however they are all food related and so effect those suffering daily. To find out about the differences between allergies and intolerances, head over to have a read – Allergies and Intolerances, Allergies via NHS England and Coeliac disease.
Living with food allergies
I reached out and spoke to a few familiar faces on Instagram to get an insight in to their struggles living with food allergies.
First up in my food allergy series I speak to Emma – AKA @Mothering_it
- Mum to five children under 8.
- FOOD ALLERGIES : One child with coeliac disease, one gluten free and two with dairy intolerances
Emma, how have allergies affected your life so far?
From a personal perspective I’m allergic to walnuts. If I eat them my tongue swells up so I try to avoid them. I’m also allergic to horses too, but find I can cope and manage my symptoms by taking a Piriton!
However since becoming a mum I’ve learnt more about food intolerances, allergies and diseases than I ever anticipated!
My second daughter was always very unwell as a baby and was given a whole range of diagnosis or I was totally fobbed off! But, deep down I knew something wasn’t right! Fast forward a few years and two of my other little ones had cows milk protein allergies too.
Getting a food allergy diagnosis
How did you go about getting a diagnosis? Was it stressful? Easy to get it?
We got our initial diagnosis when my daughter was two years old, after 18 months of fighting for some sort of help or support. She’d lost all her hair, was being sick ten or more times a day and never had a solid number two. It was like having a child with a tummy bug constantly. She was disappearing before my eyes and it wasn’t until I shouted and started crying at the doctors and made them weigh her that they took me seriously. It was such an awful time. I felt helpless and kept being given wrong guidance and advice. It was so stressful and not at all easy. At two she was finally diagnosed with Coeliac disease which whilst isn’t an allergy, often gets mistaken for other things. And often with allergies and intolerances the symptoms can be quite broad and vary so not always easy to diagnose.
Coeliac Disease meant that from here on in, we had to check all the food labels and make sure that she didn’t consume any gluten at all.
What were the tell tail symptoms that made you suspect something wasn’t right?
Their symptoms included hair loss (this is actually a very late symptom caused by anemia), bloating, gas, sickness, dark circles under the eyes, rough skin, indigestion, tummy pain, diarrhoea, chronic tiredness, lethargy.
Family life with food allergies
How do allergies affect your daily life as a family with some having allergies/food restrictions and some not?
So two of my children had cows milk protein allergies which meant we had to cut out all dairy and then gradually reintroduce it. (To find out more about CMPA, read ‘Does my baby have a CMPA? (Cows Milk Protein Allergy) Their allergies aren’t anaphylactic so are a little easier to manage. At one point we were all totally dairy and gluten free. These days things are a little easier as there’s so many alternatives available. Put it this way, there’s always several different milk alternatives and yogurts in our fridge!
My daughter with coeliac disease requires constant management as she cannot consume any gluten, eat food that contains traces or has been cross contaminated. So as you can imagine eating out can prove tricky!
We mainly all eat gluten free. We have a separate toaster for her and separate spreads and things. It’s a part of our life that we are now accustomed to. I always make sure she has the same or similar as everyone else and if I can’t do that I change what the rest of us have to suit us all so shes not left out.
How do you find eating out? Food shopping?
Eating out can be tricky! There have been times a restaurant can’t cater to us and so we’ve had to find other places or even resort to running into Tesco to get a quick picnic. Things are so much better now than they were a few years ago though and most places are aware which is so good! I tend to always take a few gluten free snacks with us so I know if there’s an emergency we are ok!
Do your children with allergies/food restrictions know about them? Do they feel different?
Yes and allowing her the control to be in charge of her Coeliac Disease has helped massively. She’s that bit older now and is therefore more understanding of it especially if there’s something she can’t have because she knows how poorly it can make her.
She is able to tell people and to make sure she doesn’t consume anything she shouldn’t. Her siblings also know and are always really good at looking out for her and also making sure she doesn’t feel left out which is lovely.
I don’t think she feels different in a bad way because I tried to instill in her that it’s not a bad thing – it’s just part of how she has to stay healthy.
Anything that worries you about having children with allergies?
Oh it’s a huge worry, especially as they get older and I can’t control their meals, snacks etc. Nursery and school have been stressful at times. Trying to ensure all staff are aware and that they know the dangers and ramifications if they were to consume something they shouldn’t have, had it’s challenges but I think having a good line of communication and ensuring your child knows and is able to question and check for themselves when you’re not there, really helps. When she was little she wore a little wrist band that said ‘No gluten/I’m Coeliac’ which was a great visual reminder. (Check out Keeping kids with allergies Awesome; The Allergy Badge for similar)
Any tips or words of advice you could share to anyone worried about food allergies?
If you think your child has an allergy, intolerance or an auto immune disease like mine, trust that instinct and get them checked- keep fighting until someone listens to you.
Being a mum of kiddies who can’t have dairy or gluten doesn’t feel as bad these days as there is so much more ‘free-from’ produce out there on the shelves for them. Granted it is more expensive, but eating a relatively healthy non-processed food diet is much better for us. We’ve found cooking food from scratch to be healthier and cheaper than buying ready-made free-from foods.
They love lots of fresh and dried fruit, vegetables and things like dairy free/gluten free crackers, bread sticks and rice cakes. All great snacks for little ones on the go that don’t cost too much either!
A huge thank you to Emma for taking part in this blog and helping raise awareness of food allergies.
You can keep up to date with Emma and her gorgeous families escapades on Instagram at @mothering_it.
If you suspect an allergy – please consult a medical professional. This blog should not replace medical advice.
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