Long before our daughter was born, my husband and I were pet owners. With two cats, we happily
merged animal love with parenthood. Our daughter, like most children, loves furry friends, and our old cats learned to tolerate her cries and sudden movements.
As our daughter grew we visited friend’s farms, Grandma’s dog and often a petting zoo. Then, around her second birthday, we attended a baby shower at a dog owner’s house. My daughter wheezed. She broke out in hives. A few weeks later at Grandma’s house, playing with the dog she’d known since birth, she sneezed. Her skin blotched. A pattern emerged and at our next pediatric visit our suspicions were confirmed. Our daughter is allergic to dogs.
Currently, it is estimated that one in four Americans suffer from an allergy. Over the past 20 years, food allergies alone have grown by 400 percent. With statistics like these, more and more parents are learning to live with allergies—their own and their children’s.
Always follow your doctor’s recommendations and treatments, but beyond the decision of whether to use medication, how can parents bring normalcy to an allergic child’s life? What are the strategies we can use to secure family fun at picnics, parties and play dates despite allergic triggers?
A breath of fresh air
Although summer trips are ubiquitous, it can be difficult to enjoy the great outdoors when pollen and plants cause your little one to tear up and sniffle. But some families find day trips can be pleasant, especially near the water. A picnic at a lake will avoid some of the season’s grassy culprits and give the family a healthy dose of summer sun.
Also promoting evening showers or baths, and even sinus cleansing can remove minuscule allergy triggers such as pollen and dust. Sinus cleansing techniques, which are done with a neti pot or saline nasal sprays, have increased in popularity since they can provide relief without the use of prescription medication.
“Nasal irrigation is a personal hygiene practice in which the nasal cavity is washed to flush out excess mucus, pollutants and irritants such as pollen and debris from the nose and sinuses,” says Stacey Feldman, who markets personal care products.
Some families also find scheduling outdoor activities later in the day can provide an outing free of allergic triggers since pollen counts are typically at their highest before 10 a.m. Or change your vacation schedule to include autumn hikes and winter ski slopes. Get children involved in planning the vacation during the summer so they can tell their friends all about the upcoming trip. The family is then assured a comfortable outdoor adventure.
Eating with care
In the last decade, healthy eating has become a sought after dining choice for adults and children alike. Thankfully, this increase in food awareness enables families to navigate food allergies with a bit more ease than in the past.
“It’s heartbreaking to see your child at a birthday party unable to eat the cake because it was made with bleached, enriched flour and commercial baking powder. It’s difficult for children to understand that when they go to another child’s birthday party they can’t have the ice cream because it was made with cow’s milk, eggs and corn syrup sweeteners,” say Mary Harris and Wilma Selzer Nachsin, co-authors of My Kid’s Allergic to Everything Dessert Cookbook. Both authors are mothers of children with a history of asthma and food allergies.
Fortunately, cookbooks like this one explain to parents how to substitute potato or amaranth flours for wheat and agave or honey for sugar. Nutritional knowledge enables parents to make a modified version of their child’s favorite dish, one that tastes great without any reaction-inducing ingredients.
If you are looking to dine out, read ingredients and menus online prior to heading out the door. An advantage of chain restaurants is their recipes do not change. But some parents with allergic concerns are more comfortable dining at independent natural food restaurants. The staff at Milwaukee businesses such as Beans and Barley, Riverwest Co-op Café and Good Harvest are usually well versed in food allergies and can be a great resource for what to order that is allergen free. Calling ahead and understanding what menu options are available will provide a stress-free meal for the whole family.
Resisting cuddly kittens
If a child has animal allergies, it may be possible to be in a pet owner’s home for a short visit. If the allergy is not intense, sometimes air filtration, keeping surfaces clean of animal dander and keeping the animal away during a visit is enough to provide a restful atmosphere. Try to prepare in advance if you are visiting friends or family who share their homes with furry companions.
Dr. James Sublett, chair of the Indoor Allergen Committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends that relatives “plan ahead. The allergens are in the settled dust in the home and become airborne when disturbed. Any cleaning should be done at least eight hours before the visit so that anything stirred up has a chance to settle down.”
If there is contact with an animal a child is allergic to, wash the child’s hands and face immediately to help avoid discomfort. Itchy eyes rubbed with a dander covered hand will only exacerbate the allergy.
Sublett also suggests creating an animal-free zone. “For a short visit this could be a room like the kitchen, which would likely have more smooth surfaces and no carpet. If spending the night, designate a bedroom where the animal never enters. Use a HEPA air cleaner in that bedroom.”
For me, this strategy works for holidays and brunch visits, but my daughter is unable to spend a restful night in a house with a dog. For overnight visits we welcome relatives to stay at our house.
Over time, I’ve learned the best way to cope with my daughter’s allergies is to stay informed and be open to changing plans. I don’t want her to ever feel she is missing out or unable to participate in activities she loves. On the other hand I want her to express any discomforts immediately, so we are able to make adjustments and assure she stays healthy. Because my main job is to raise a fit-as-a-fiddle child who is confident and kind. And I’m going to try my hardest to do that. With or without allergies.
Take a look at a recent Journal article about the HVAC system and how it can benefit those suffering from allergies.