A Melbourne mum experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when her son suffered a severe allergic reaction at childcare after taking a sip from another child’s cup.
Owen Lynch, who is allergic to dairy, eggs and peanuts, was two years old when he accidentally picked up the wrong cup and took a big gulp of cow's milk.
It wasn’t long before he ended up in hospital after breaking out in hives, an acute rash and swelling.
His mum, Phoebe, looks back on it now as just “one of those fluke things” — but said close calls like that are why better education and awareness around allergies is desperately needed.
“Once it happened the centre increased its knowledge and staffing,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“You have to advocate a lot with your child because the understanding isn’t consistent.”
How a kiss sparked an allergic reaction
Every element of Phoebe’s life became consumed with allergy protection when Owen reacted to eggs at just three months old.
A few months later, he had a reaction to peanut butter and then a skin prick test also uncovered a dairy allergy.
“It sounds really bad,” she said.
“But one of the good things is Melbourne is the vegan capital of the world. It’s lucky there are so many alternative foods.
“A limiting factor is eating out. Education at restaurants and serving food is not great.”
She’ll never forget the day when a simple kiss on his forehead — four hours after eating satay for dinner — was enough to spark a reaction.
That’s when she decided not to have peanuts in the home anymore.
“I had washed my hands but not my face,” she said.
“Initially I had a lot of anxiety over food.”
Owen is now five and Phoebe said it’s getting easier to manage his allergies as he gets older, though buying groceries for the Lynch household is “quite intense”.
“Every time I go food shopping I have to check the contents of every product,” she said.
“Dairy is a big one, it can be in hand wash, soaps and even toothpaste.”
Wonton behind first anaphylaxis scare
Owen’s first anaphylaxis scare was caused by a store-bought wonton wrapper when he was three.
“The brand we normally buy wasn’t in-stock so we had to buy another one,” she explained.
While the wrapper did state it may contain eggs, Phoebe said as a family they had decided to still buy products with these kinds of warnings.
She first noticed something was wrong when she undressed him later that night and found he was covered in hives.
But when an antihistamine failed to calm the reaction, she made the decision to drive to hospital.
“On the way I asked him how he was feeling and he said he couldn't breathe that well and his tongue felt ticklish.
“I called my partner, told him to call an ambulance, then drove home so we could administer the epipen. We needed to act quickly.”
Allergies caused by common foods
Research suggests up to one in 20 school-aged children in Australia have food allergies.
“That equates to one child in every class having an allergy,” National Allergy Strategy co-chair Maria Said told Yahoo News Australia.
She said it’s important to note that it’s “not just nuts” causing allergies.
“People think it’s just about nuts but it’s not. We have got to care about all food allergies,” she said.
“We have lost children to milk, we have lost children to eggs.”
Inconsistencies putting lives at risk
Ms Said — along with other experts — has helped to develop a set of new guidelines which aim to clarify and align how anaphylaxis is prevented and managed in educational settings.
Released this week, the guidelines have recommended removing blanket bans on foods from schools and childcare centres in favour of greater education and awareness around allergies and anaphylaxis.
“The reality is dairy or milk is a whole food group and there is no way you can say don’t bring dairy to school,” she explained.
“There is a risk of a potentially life threatening reaction. A blanket ban does not work even where schools try. You need to have a whole sweep of management strategies.”
Ms Said warned variations in how allergies are managed create confusion and anxiety for parents and educators in schools, and ultimately put children’s safety at risk.
“The danger is real from a safety perspective,” she said.
More training needed among staff
She said a consistent allergy awareness approach must include ensuring staff are adequately trained, especially in the prompt recognition and treatment of an allergic reaction including anaphylaxis.
“In Australia, the requirement currently is to have one staff member trained and that is not sufficient from our perspective,” Ms Said told Yahoo News Australia.
“Anyone who has any responsibility must be trained. Whether you’re supervising a child on a bus line or teaching a music class.”
Owen is now five-years-old and Pheobe said it’s getting easier to manage his allergies as he gets older.
“He is more aware of his allergies and more confident in asking what is in the food.”
“You don’t want to become that helicopter parent around food but you do want to increase awareness on how severe it can be.
“It’s important to be aware of how serious it is but how simply it can be managed”.
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