Back in February, when most of us were really realizing that a novel coronavirus was spreading throughout the world, we were reminded again and again about the basic rules of hygiene.
And again and again, I was caught between disgust because grown-ass adults need to be reminded to wash their hands like they’re six and amusement because these rules became my life as a food allergy mom five years ago.
Did you know that basic hygiene rules also keep people with food allergies from going into anaphylactic shock?
So those few weeks between the virus coming to Virginia and Virginia shutting down didn’t change much for me and mine. We didn’t start washing our hands frequently — we already were. We weren’t suddenly wiping down common surfaces — that’s what we do throughout the day. We weren’t sharing our drinks and eating utensils — it can lead to death.
The longer the pandemic drags on, the more I realize:
The rules Food Allergy Moms have learned to live with and work to instill in our kids give us an edge during this pandemic.
Wash your hands!
I say this just as often as “do you have to pee?” every single day. Twenty seconds with soap (or long enough to sing the alphabet, which I’ve made the boys recite loud enough for me to hear a time or two so I know they’ve done what I’ve asked).
And it has to be soap and water or a commercial hand wipe. Why? Because hand sanitizer is not effective in removing allergens. It’s not even effective at cleaning your hands or killing every germ out there.
Washing your hands really does save lives.
Wipe down everything!
Was the cafeteria table wiped down between classes? How well was the table at the restaurant cleaned before you sat down? How clean was that dishrag?
You can see food, but not the proteins that cause allergic reactions. Wiping down common surfaces at home or in public might seem like overkill, but as food allergy moms, we’d rather be safe than sorry.
Don’t touch your face. Don’t lick your fingers! Stop biting your nails. DON’T pick your nose! Sorry, you can’t kiss me.
Some people don’t react to touching their allergen, but they will if that allergen touches a mucous membrane. These membranes are your eyes, nose, and mouth and when allergens reach these areas, reactions can be more severe (anaphylaxis).
This is why we’re big hand washers.
Viruses work the same way. You might not get sick from using a doorknob, but if you decide to eat fries out of the bag without washing your hands first, that virus can find its way into your mouth and make you sick.
So…Wash your hands 😉
Don’t share drinks (or utensils)
Food allergens can survive in your saliva for over four hours! This means that you could eat a PB&J sandwich for lunch and cause someone to react if you share a drink at a movie theater two hours later. Or, your cake could have traces of an allergen in it without you knowing. If you use your fork to steal a piece of pie from your friend with a food allergy, then you’ve contaminated their food.
Most of us have been told at least one point in time that sharing drinks (or utensils) spreads germs. So this is just good life advice.
Keep Your Distance!
If you’ve been eating someone’s allergen, a simple hug or kiss can cause a reaction. Peanut dust can linger on clothes or your lips. Those allergens can cause skin reactions or worse. Food allergy moms try to keep their kids away from anyone who has been eating an allergen because you don’t have to see it to react to it. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to accept Great Aunt Lilly’s hug, it’s just that we don’t want to worry about hives from a kiss on the cheek.
Now, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, we’re being told to distance ourselves from people we don’t live with. It’s not that we don’t want to visit grandparents, it just that we don’t want to worry about killing them because we didn’t know we were sick ourselves.
Food allergy parents are constantly assessing risks. Do I trust the label on the package or should I call the company? Does the steakhouse have peanuts at every table? How seriously do my relatives take my child’s allergy to be able to depend on them for child care? Are my kids of an age where they can be more responsible for themselves and I don’t have to hover?
Every food allergy parent assesses risk but it’s is an area where the final decisions will vary greatly. One family might be okay with their child eating food produced on shared lines with their allergens. Others won’t be. One family might be okay with their child sitting on movie theater chairs. Others will bring a blanket to drape over the chair so their child doesn’t touch food residue.
Now that the country is beginning to open back up from Stay At Home mandates, everybody will find themselves assessing the risk of doing something “normal” again. And what one person feels is safe will be something another wouldn’t dream of doing just yet.
Last week, I read a post by Emily Oster about assessing the risk of seeing grandparents and putting your kids in daycare as it relates to COVID-19. But her framework for assessing risk is similar to mine as a Food Allergy Mom and once again I was thinking “Welcome to my life!” Her post got one thing right for sure: sometimes there is no easy answer.
So. Being a Food Allergy Mom means knowing there is always a risk of reaction. We can never take that risk away, so we must protect our kids and teach them how to protect themselves as best they can.
For us, this means making sure L has his AUVI-Q every time he leaves the house. It means bringing safe food to parties so he’ll be able to eat. We keep a stash of peanut-free cupcakes in our freezer so that L doesn’t have to go to a birthday party without a sweet treat. It means stocking up on wipes and keeping them with us because hand sanitizer does not get rid of food proteins that cause reactions. Sometimes, it means removing ourselves from situations that make us/L feel unsafe, or decline invitations that would put him in those positions to begin with.
COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. It’s a very nasty virus that we might never have a cure or treatment for. So, we need to figure out how to live with it. That means figuring out how to protect ourselves — and others — from something too tiny to see with the naked eye that has the potential to kill.
Something Food Allergy Moms know about all too well.