Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Finding out the hard way.

I can’t believe it’s taken me ‘til now to get myself together to write this, but here goes…

May 21st, 2010 was supposed to be an all-around fun day. I chaperoned my daughter’s 4th grade class on a Field Trip to the Lockport Locks on the Erie Canal. It was a gorgeous day, the kids had a great time and learned a lot, we got lots of great pics and lots of time in the sun. I always enjoy spending time with my kids and their classmates. It makes me feel like I get a little glimpse of how their daily life is away from home.

That night we went to see a local band play a few songs at an ice cream shop around the corner. It was a family-friendly fundraising event, so we took the kids along. My son wanted a hot fudge sundae. I ordered it for him and the girl behind the counter asked if he wanted crushed nuts on it. Sure. She put the crushed nuts on it, topped it with whipped cream and a cherry and we went on our way. He took one bite of the sundae and put his spoon down. He sat and watched the music for a minute, then looked up at me and said “Mommy, this sundae is spicy. I don’t want it.” I thought he was being picky, so I said the hot fudge was probably just still a little hot and to wait a minute before taking another bite. He wanted to go play with the hula hoops that were out for the kids in front of the band. He went and did that for a few minutes, then he came back and said he was super thirsty. I got him a bottle of water. He still would not touch his sundae, insisting again that it was “spicy”, so I threw it out.

He attempted to play with the hula hoops again but before long he was back at the table, complaining of a stomach ache. I took him to the bathroom, he tried to go but couldn’t. His stomach ache was getting worse. And now I was noticing, he had a rash on his forearms. I also noticed that his lips were red, his cheeks were red and the skin between his eyebrows seemed to be puffy, which I found really strange. He was getting more and more miserable so we decided to go home. As we were leaving, it slowly started to dawn on me and I told my husband - “He’s having an allergic reaction to something!” We got in the car and at first we intended to go right to Children’s Hospital. But then David said he was feeling better – he was not having any problems swallowing or breathing so we stopped home (literally one minute’s drive from the ice cream place) and called his pediatrician’s office. Dr. F. said it sounded like an allergic reaction and to get him to the nearest hospital IMMEDIATELY if his symptoms came back or got worse. While I talked to the doctor, David was taking a quick shower - which, unbeknownst to us at the time, was the WORST possible thing for him to be doing! As soon as he got out of the shower and into his pajamas, he projectile vomited all over the living room. We took him right to the closest ER. I was scared out of my mind at this point. They checked him out in the triage area and took him back to a bed right away. He was still red and rashy, but was breathing fine and was alert. After I went through the sequence of events with the doctors and nurses, they determined that yes it was an allergic reaction – apparently to something in the “spicy” sundae. They gave him a shot of Benadryl or epinephrine, which knocked him out cold within just a couple of minutes. I made the nurse come in and check his vitals to make sure he was alright because he had been wide awake and talking his head off just a few minutes before and now he was suddenly completely listless and unresponsive. They checked him out and assured me he was alright – that’s just the effect the giant dose of medication has on children. They monitored him for a couple of hours and released him once his symptoms dissipated, with instructions to me to follow up with his pediatrician a.s.a.p.

I called the ice cream shop the next day and asked them for an ingredient list for the sundae toppings. The manager was not really too thrilled with me, but she did read each thing to me and I wrote it down. The only thing on the list that seemed a good possibility for being the culprit was the mixed nuts topping. She said there were several different kinds of nuts in the topping – not just peanuts, but also some tree nuts like walnuts and cashews. I didn’t know what to think. I knew for sure he was NOT allergic to peanuts - he eats PB&J sandwiches practically every day. He had never had a problem with tree nuts in the past either – what the heck was going on?? The pediatrician sent him for a food allergy panel bloodtest and gave us a referral to an allergist. His bloodwork came back negative for an allergy to almonds – but only specifically almonds. {No one bothered to tell me that for the tree nuts part of the blood test they were only testing him for almonds!} When we went to the allergist a few days later, they did the skin test on his back……not a pretty sight.Tree nuts are really not his friend.

They rated the reactions on a hash mark scale of 0-4+ with 4+ being the highest and signaling a severe allergy. He tested 4+ on two different tree nuts which he had never, ever had a problem with before. Scary. The allergist’s advice is for him to avoid all tree nuts like the plague because there’s a high risk for cross-contamination, plus he could just as suddenly become allergic to OTHER tree nuts in the future and we wouldn’t know it until we found out like this – the hard way. So just like that, daily life changed for our family and now every little thing we buy has to be checked first. He can’t eat any store bought baked goods because even the tree-nutless ones are prepared in the same place as the ones with tree nuts. It’s crazy how it’s a lifestyle change. I thank God that his reaction happened when it did and where it did, because every Memorial Day when our family celebrates with a big picnic miles away from any good emergency room, there’s usually a canister of mixed nuts to snack on – and my son always loved to eat them. If this had happened that next week out at that picnic, he could have been in very serious trouble. Now we have an EpiPen for him wherever he goes. The prospect of ever using it is incredibly scary, but hopefully as long as we teach him to be very careful and to never eat anything without asking a grown up first if it’s safe for him, he’ll be ok. He has gotten very good at asking if foods are safe – he asks about every little thing he eats now, which is great. He’s a smart boy.

It’s awful because now when I look back at these two pictures I took of him hula hooping, I can see the change in him. Now I can see his forehead starting to swell up in this first picture when he’s still smiling…
And then this second picture was taken right before we had to leave. You can see he’s not such a happy camper anymore. It’s certainly a night I will remember well for the rest of my life. It’s so important to be able to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction – anaphylaxis can come on FAST and it can be fatal. All the things that happened to him that night were classic symptoms of it. Thank God his experience was “mild”. Letting him take that shower was a bad idea because the hot water increased his heart rate and helped pump the allergen through his body faster and made things worse, which is why he vomited. We had no idea that would be the case but it all makes sense now.

 Click here for more information on tree nut allergies
click here for information on how to identify anaphylaxis.
It’s something every parent should educate themselves on - because you really just never know.


  1. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I am allergic to tree nuts and have had many reactions before I found out what it was. Allergies never really bothered me until we gave our second daughter her first taste of eggs. Needless to say she projectile vomited everywhere and broke out in hives. We took her to an allergist and found out she was allergic to eggs, wheat, peanuts, and soy. Thankfully she grew out of wheat and soy but boy was it a life changing thing.

    She wears a medic bracelet and knows what things she is allergic to and carries benadryl and an epipen everywhere. Sadly she has had a handful of allergic reactions but they were my hubbies and my fault. We didn't think something would have egg in it but it did. We now ask at every restaurant. Now I know allergies are scary

    I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving

  2. Thank you ladies for your kind words! Casey that must be so scary that your daughter is allergic to peanuts and eggs - those are virtually impossible to get away from! I hope she grows out of those two as well... From what I've been told, 97% of people with tree nut allergies will have them for life, but we're of course hoping our son will fall into the other 3% :)

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!


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