I had a slightly surreal experience last night, and I need to add on to my post yesterday about 4 reasons I am Jealous of My grandmother. Here’s the catchy title for reason #5: ‘Confused about whether my child is having an anaphylactic reaction from peanut desensitization or just still recovering from whooping cough.’

For the last 12 weeks, our daughter has been participating in a program to desensitize her to peanuts. It’s basically like allergy shots, but instead you give the person tiny doses of peanut over time, gradually building up to whole peanuts. It had been going really well until she caught the virus her younger sister had a month or two ago. She had a mild reaction to her dose, so we lowered her dose for a while.

We continued at this level, but her coughing kept going, and going and going. Just like her sister’s. First, it was diagnosed as environmental allergies, then the doctor suspected pneumonia, but both of their xrays were clear. The word pertussis, or whooping cough, came up, but it seemed unlikely given that both of our kids are vaccinated.

The younger girl finally improved (she had a 3 week head start), but her older sister was still going strong. We had another visit to the allergist, and she started to suspect that both had had pertussis and were recovering. Apparently, as more parents choose not to vaccinate (not passing any judgments here) and the virus is becoming more common, the doctor has seen more people get pertussis, regardless of their vaccination history. But it still seemed a little unlikely. Her coughing became less regular, and she seemed overall to improve.

So last night, my daughter started coughing and gasping after her dose of peanut. We popped over to the ER to see if she was still just recovering from her virus, or having a mild anaphylactic reaction to peanut. Lo and behold, despite the timing of her coughing – right after the dose – and her gasping for air, the doctor felt she was still just whooping a little. ‘They call it the 100 day cough in China,’ he smiled. He found no evidence of an allergic reaction, and the girls haven’t been contagious for weeks, so could go to school. And we found ourselves saying, ‘Thank goodness, it’s just whooping cough,’ because we were thrilled that we could continue with the desensitization program. And I know my grandmother never had THAT experience.

So, you get the call. Your grandchild had her first peanut, or in our case, piece of a peanut, and she is in the ER. She’ll be ok – several doses of epinephrine and some steroids finally brought her head size back from Great Pumpkin to 21/2 year-old little girl size. And maybe you’re thinking, well, I’ll make sure to have some cream cheese on hand when I am making my own toast with peanut butter. 

Not so fast. As parents who witnessed the 6-hour experience first hand and have no intention of EVER going through it again, we were motivated to make sure our kitchen was absolutely and totally peanut-free. The doctor and allergist were clear. Next time, we may not be so lucky. (We didn’t think we were so lucky, by the way, but yes, it could have been mush worse). But for the grandparents, who weren’t there to see her cough and swell, some of the transition was more difficult. 

We had three main points to get across to our grandparents. First, when we were around, there couldn’t be any peanuts near our young daughter. While I know our grandparents would never mean to use the same knife for their peanut butter and her cream cheese, habit often takes over. And, cooking with two toddlers running around can often muddle things up. Second, we had to always have an inhaler (she also has asthma), epi-pens and Benadryl with her. It was hard to remember at first, but has now become a habit. Finally, we had some new limitations on where we could eat. Asian food, especially Thai, was out. Also, she couldn’t eat ice cream from an ice cream store. This is because of the potential for cross-contamination between flavors. And yes, there is some irony here given that I work for a company called DoubleScoop.

Six years later, we have never had an incident. And I think our grandparents believe that our strict rules make sense, rather than result from neurotic, new-age helicopter parents. We are certainly those parents, too, but not when it relates to allergies. If you do have a grandchild with a severe allergy, please take care to follow the parent’s lead. The end goal is obvious. You want the parents to feel comfortable with your grandchildren spending time with you. Both sets of our grandparents made us feel confident that our child would be safe with them, so we make sure our kids spend a lot of time with them. 

PS. I’ll write follow-up blogs about one crazy treatment the grandparents suggested we pursue for the peanut allergy, and what we are doing now!

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