My 18-year-old son recently had his first anaphylactic reaction. I want to share our experience so you can learn from it.
My son was born in 2003. He was prescribed an epi pen at 8-months of age for severe allergies to milk, eggs, and peanuts.
Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid exposures to his allergens his entire life. Part caution? Part luck? Because we have a wonderful and supportive ‘village’?
Though we knew anaphylaxis could happen at any time, naively we thought the day would never come when our son would have to deal with an anaphylactic reaction.
Last week, my son ordered a burrito from a place he’s safely ordered from several times before, and brought it to our house to eat with some friends. Cautious by nature (he’s not very exploratory when it comes to food), he always orders the same chicken, rice, and bean burrito.
After devouring half the burrito, his mouth started itching. He opened the burrito to investigate and saw the rice was ‘clumpy’. Inspecting more closely, he saw it was ‘clumpy’ because it was full of cheese. He called me immediately — I wasn’t home. I told him to take Benadryl and questioned him about other symptoms. I was reassured because he told me that beyond the itchy mouth, there were no other symptoms.
Fifteen minutes later he called again, hysterical. He told me hives were appearing and he was having a lot of excess saliva. I told him to use his epi pen. He was scared. He’d never had to use his epi pen before and was afraid to use it while I was gone. I could feel his fear. I quickly borrowed my friend’s phone and called 911. I asked them to go to my house.
The emergency responders arrived at my house within 3 minutes. The first thing they did was have my son give himself the epinephrine. Then they transported him to the hospital via ambulance. At the hospital he was given more epinephrine as his reaction progressed, along with a high dose albuterol treatment because of his asthma. By the time I got to the hospital he was bright red, covered in hives, and had thrown up several times. The hospital eventually released him and while he was shaken, he was fine.
This was an incredibly scary experience, for my son, for me. He’s 18-years old and I never want to let him out of my sight again
(which I know is unreasonable!)
With the fear and stress of the experience behind us, I am seeing a silver lining for my son and our family:
He now knows how fast a reaction can progress and what symptoms can look like and feel like.
He won’t be as afraid to use his epinephrine in the future and now knows how to self-administer it.
Hopefully he’ll approach dining out with more caution, handling the allergy conversation with greater care until he’s satisfied a restaurant can make a safe meal for him.
Hopefully he’ll remember the hard lessons he just learned:
He’s not invincible.
Just because he’s eaten someplace safely before doesn’t guarantee it will be safe when he revisits. He has to do his due diligence each and every time when eating out.
He has to keep his epinephrine with him all the time.
Don’t hesitate to use epinephrine when you need it.
I wanted to share our story—thankfully it was a happy ending story—to remind you to stay cautious.
"Never get complacent about your food allergies or carrying your epinephrine. You just never know…"
About the Author: Jennifer Gouvaia is a sales professional in the wine & spirits industry in northern California, working for Amcor. Jennifer is also a long-time allergy mom. When her son was born in 2003, she had no idea she was about to learn all about food allergies. For 18 years her family has successfully managed his allergies and kept him safe with the help of their ‘village’, until they recently had a wake-up call that changed their lives forever.
Image Credits: Thank you to Jennifer and to Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash for use of the images