Food Allergy Week May 14-20, 2017
Australian children have the highest recorded rate of food allergies in the world. Onein 10 babies born in Australia today will develop a food allergy. As, Food Allergy Week coincides with Mother's Day this year we are highlighting the awesome work of Aussie Food Allergy mums and advocates.
Australia has the unfortunate title of "Food Allergy Capital of the World". Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions quadrupled in the last 20 years, while alarmingly the number of allergy-related deaths in Australia is increasing by 10 per cent each year. Food Allergy Week, May 14-20 is an initiative of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to raise awareness of food allergies in Australia.
In our Food Allergy Mum Interview Series, we hope to promote understanding and insight in to the challenges of parenting a child with life threatening food allergies, along with the need for change to build an allergy aware allergy safe commUNITY!
Sarah Gray, Charity Founder & Advocate
What are your child’s allergies? When did you find out?
Bella has anaphylaxis risk allergies to milk, egg, fish and chicken. She also has a rare allergic disease called eosinophilic oesophagitis (EoE) to which her additional known food triggers are wheat, soy and peanut. She was diagnosed at 18 months old with EoE and had her first severe allergic reaction to egg at age 3 (contact reaction, not from eating egg).
What would be one of the most difficult aspects of daily living with food allergies?
Always having to be prepared for everywhere you go with food and EpiPen and always having to think before you eat or cook. Every time. You can’t safely do these tasks as an autopilot Mum! You’d think you would be able to after 12 years practice, but no, autopilot Mum has grabbed the wrong milk to top up an icing before and then noticed just in the nick of time!
What is one of the biggest challenges raising a child with food allergies?
In our family the biggest challenge has been (and still is) the mental health impact. It affects everyone in the family, including those in the family that don’t have any allergies (I have a second daughter Olivia who is 11).
Do you have a proud mum moment (of your food allergic child?) that you would like to share?
Bella’s a Cheerleader and I’m pretty vocal about how proud I am about that! She has been on an elemental formula since her EoE diagnosis and this supplements her limited diet. She had it through a gastrostomy feeding tube from age 7 – 11. She had her feeding tube removed because she was so dedicated to Cheerleading she wanted to go back to drinking her formula again so she could do more advanced stunts. If anyone reading this has had a child on elemental formula they will understand what a big deal it is to have a teenager still willing and able to drink the formula!
What would be one piece of advice for parents who have a child with new food allergy diagnosis?
Please tell your kids about their allergy, explain it fully from a very young age so they understand exactly what they are allergic to, what their allergen looks like, what the other ingredient names of them are, what might happen in an allergic reaction etc. This is equally important for kids that have been allergic from when they were diagnosed very young and they have just grown up with their allergy and therefore that is all they know so the sit down moment explaining it to them might not have happened. You’ve got to get the balance right though so they don’t live in constant fear. Let them know about it but then explain what you are all going to do to prevent an allergic reaction. Include them in reading the ingredient labels, helping them to be responsible to always remember their EpiPen before going anywhere, hand washing, letting their friends know etc. It sounds like this would be obvious but I have come across kids over the years (as has Bella) who have allergies but do not really understand what this means for them.
Do you have a favourite, safe for your family, recipe or meal idea to share? What's one of the first recipes you taught your kids to make?
I run a Facebook page called Australian Allergy Friendly Finds and I’m always sharing my favourite family recipes on that page. I also share allergy friendly products and foods we find, cafes/restaurants… basically anything that has helped us in living with food allergies and I hope others find it helpful to them too.
How can we raise food allergy awareness in our communities?
By participating in campaigns like Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia’s Food Allergy Week. I love their Paint one Nail initiative! For awareness for eosinophilic disorders I invite you to check out our ausEE Inc. website (www.ausee.org)In 2009 I founded ausEE Inc., which is the national charity providing support and information to those with eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders (EGID) including EoE. Each year we host Top 8 Challenge Day on the 8/8 to raise funds for research into eosinophilic disorders. For one meal or for the whole day we ask people to not eat any of the top 8 common allergenic foods (milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, shellfish and fish) and gain an insight into the life of someone living with an eosinophilic disorder and multiple food allergies. Initiatives like this help to raise awareness, it may only be for a day or a week but has the potential to have carry on effects that last the whole year! Empathy is the greatest gift of all!
Thanks for being an amazing, hardworking food allergy awareness advocate, and an inspiration. What inspires you?
Both my daughters inspire me, more than what I can put into words!
Sarah Gray is the Founder and current President of ausEE Inc.,a charity that supports families effected by EGID disorders, raises awareness and fundraising for research. She also works part time in local government in finance and procurement. Sarah’s goal is to make sure that anyone who suffers from an EGID can turn to ausEE for support and to help raise critical awareness of the condition in all of Australia. She has two daughters, one of which (Bella) suffers from food allergies and EoE and who was the catalyst for forming the organisation in November 2009. She is an active food allergy awareness advocate and voice, and runs a food allergy support page Australian Allergy Friend Finds