This is a 2013 series focused on personal journey with eczema while managing a certain aspect of life. Today, we have Louise Jones, whose son has a severe peanut allergy and shares how she manages his allergies and eczema. Louise is passionate about learning and sharing on parenting severe nut allergy child at Nutmums.
Marcie Mom: Hi Louise, thanks for taking time to share with us about managing your son’s eczema and severe nut allergy. Let’s start with you sharing a little of your family allergy history, and about your son’s eczema.
Louise: Hi Mei, Thank you very much for asking me to share our journey. There is, in fact, very little in the way of family allergy history. I have mild asthma (but, touch wood, haven’t had to use an inhaler in years) and can get wheezy around cats. His dad sometimes has hay fever symptoms and his paternal grandmother had eczema as a child. Otherwise, there are no known allergies in either side of the family.
My son has had eczema since he was a baby. I’m not sure when exactly it started, but we were regularly using Oilatum and hydrocortisone cream by the time he was 6 months old. I remember one night him scratching his head so much in his sleep that the next day there was what looked like a graze covering half of his forehead. If I put him in scratch mitts, he would still rub and rub at his skin with the gloves until it bled. At 14 months, he had eczema herpeticum and we spent the day on the children’s ward. However, a short while after that, his eczema seemed to improve and, fortunately, at the moment, it is fairly mild.
Marcie Mom: When did you realize your son has severe nut/peanut allergy? Was there any particular incident of severe allergic reaction?
Louise: When my son was 20 months old, he ate a peanut butter cookie and had a severe anaphylactic reaction. That was our baptism of fire into the world of food allergies. We knew next to nothing about allergies before that point and, so far as we know, he hadn’t had any previous mild reactions to food.
He used to love chocolate chip and hazelnut cookies and had occasionally had a bite of cakes containing nuts. We didn’t avoid foods labelled “may contain nuts” and we had peanut butter in the house. However, that first reaction was the first occasion he had knowingly eaten peanut.
The reaction was extremely severe. Immediately after biting into the cookie, his lips swelled, one eye swelled closed and his breathing became loud and wheezy. Fortunately, his grandmother is a retired nurse and recognized it as anaphylaxis and called an ambulance. As this was his first allergic reaction, we hadn’t been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector at that point. Although the paramedics arrived incredibly quickly, there was still a 10-15 minute time lag between the symptoms starting and him getting the adrenaline injection. He was taken to hospital and, as the doctors were concerned about the swelling in his throat, they decided they needed to put a breathing tube down. He spent the next 3 days in intensive care. However, within a week, he was back at home and to look at him, you would not have guessed what he had been through.
After that, his skin prick tests confirmed the peanut allergy but were negative for tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts etc). For now, we’ve decided to avoid all nuts, to reduce both the risk of confusion (it’s easier to tell his nursery, relatives etc “no nuts”) and cross-contamination.
Marcie Mom: Did avoidance of allergens for your child also result in improved skin?
Louise: I’m not sure, as at the time he was diagnosed with peanut allergy, his eczema was already improving. However, as well as having eczema, he had been quite a sicky baby. When he was little, this was put down to reflux. When he was around 12 months old, he had a series of chest infections, so the sickness at that stage was put down to catarrh. Following his anaphylactic reaction, the doctors got his asthma under control. It may be coincidence, but he then had far fewer chest infections and the sickness improved too.
Marcie Mom: One final question – what would be one reminder or key advice you have for parents of children with severe allergies?
Louise: Well, I would say please don’t hesitate to administer the EpiPen. We’ve used it twice since that initial reaction. The first time we used it turned out to be a false alarm (he had croup which had triggered his asthma), but the second time it stopped the anaphylactic reaction in its tracks. On both occasions, the hospital doctors told us we had done the right thing.
I would also warn parents to be aware of the increased peanut allergy risk if your child (or someone in your child’s immediate family) has eczema (or another atopic illness). I actually think this is something that doctors should spell out when they are diagnosing eczema and prescribing emollients and steroid creams for babies. If your baby has eczema, please talk to your doctor before introducing peanut into their diet – don’t be caught unawares like we were!
Marcie Mom: Thank you Louise for your sharing, and indeed many parents share about their worry that an ‘allergy accident’ will happen to their child and can certainly identify with your journey. For more on eczema herpeticum, refer here.