Monday, August 1, 2011

travelling with allergies

You’d think that the stressful part of travelling with allergic children would be the allergy part, but that was not the case with my trip from hell.

Five years ago (the fact I still remember should give you an indication as to the traumatic events that follow), I travelled with my children to Central Queensland to visit my family, and left my husband behind to hold the fort.

The night before our return, we stayed in Brisbane with my cousin, who blitzed the dust mites by spraying our mattresses with eucalyptus oil. That night Nicholas broke out in a rash all over his body, and cried and scratched until dawn. The result was a terrible combination: lack of sleep and a 22-month-old boy.

The fun began at midday (nap time) at check-in. It was hot, there was a huge queue and Nicholas decided to liven things up by throwing himself on the floor and screaming his lungs out. Between his screams, we had the check-in person try to confiscate Stella’s adrenaline auto-injector(despite our letter), so my blood pressure was sky high. The kids actually behaved on the plane to Sydney, pulling the wool over the flight attendants’ eyes so well that one even commented on their good behaviour.

Well, they obviously didn’t see Act Two. Our arrival in Sydney coincided with Nicholas reaching a frenzied, over-tired state and he decided it was time to play the bolting game. This involved me putting his squirming body down so I could fill out the departure forms while he made his own departures, disappearing at jet speed into the distance. (All of this could have been avoided if we had been allowed our super-small stroller on the plane – it had been bought specifically to avoid this situation.) Stella solved the problem by tackling Nicholas and sitting on him.

He then discoveed some “safe” chocolate. A sugar rush would have made no difference at this stage, I naively thought, and at least it would keep Nicholas quiet for 60 seconds. All was going well until, as we went through customs, I saw from the corner of my eye a chocolate-covered paw making its way towards my hair. Nicholas hadn’t eaten the chocolate. He had shoved it in his mouth, along with his fists, to make a wonderful chocolate paste.

Act Three. Passengers in transit were audience to a three-hour show involving a slightly deranged woman chasing a toddler from one end of the airport to the other, with a five-year-old doing the odd tackle.

Finally it was time to board the plane. Halleluiah! The end was in sight. But Nicholas hadn’t made his grand finale. I suddenly felt something warm oozing through my shirt, followed by an unmistakable odour. He had vomited bright orange twisties all over my shoulder. His only saving grace was that he fell asleep the instant we got settled into our seats (after a clean up). As I held his sleeping carcass, I vowed that nothing was going to make me wake him up, not even an emergency evacuation. Surely it was a scientific impossibility for anything else to wrong?

But it wasn’t. I looked over at Stella, who had been very well behaved even when customs confiscated her scoobies (those long, plastic string things that were all the rage back then) in case she strangled a passenger. To my horror, blood started oozing from of her nose, and turned into a gush. It was the biggest nose bleed she had ever had. We were rescued by a flight attendant who correctly read the look in my eyes and rushed to help.

The lesson I learned? Allergies do present a challenge but they can be the least of your worries when you travel alone with a child under the age of three.

Do you have any travelling horror stories?

Inga Stünzner

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Managing food allergies at school

Do you have a child with food allergies at school?

Sadly, most of the time when food allergies are reported in the media it is because a school is seeking to ban a particular food (there is a story every day from the US media). [Obviously, this wasn't the case with Allergy Awareness Week (15-22 May)].

And each time this happens there are clearly two camps (both very small, I imagine) who are particularly vocal - a small group of parents who feel that the rights of a minority should not dictate the rights of the majority, and another very small group who feel that having a peanut butter sandwich in the school will kill their child.

Interestingly, many parents who do not support food bans in schools actually have children with food allergies. And most of them are members of Allergy New Zealand (and we assume it is because they have access to trusted information and support!).

Not surprisingly, we hear the same old story that if your child is that allergic, why don’t they stay home? Unfortunately, this debate does bring out a callous attitude in some people who believe our children should not participate in society if they are too difficult to cater for.

Most of us are well aware that our children need to learn responsibility from an early age, but it is also our duty as a caring community to support them in this. It is like teaching children how to cross the road safely - you don't expect a six-year-old to suddenly be able to cross a busy street on their own. It takes time, education and the support of the school and wider community.

One of the reasons why many organisations similar to Allergy New Zealand don’t support blanket bans is that they do tend to polarise the community and it is a lot harder to get people on your side and to help your child live safely when that happens. Also, if you ban one food, where do you stop?

The other reason bans are not supported is that it takes the focus and effort away from awareness and education and shifts it on to enforcing the ban. The child with the allergy also needs to learn, in a supportive environment, how to take control and manage their condition.

But while imposing a food ban may not be the answer, other strategies and policies should be in place to help keep children with allergies safe, particularly when they are very young.

Our chief exec, Penny, was interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme two weeks ago. Have a listen if you have time here.

In the meantime, what has been your experience with your school?

If you have a child at intermediate or secondary school, how have you approached the school?

What are some strategies you have taught your child to keep themselves safe? And how supportive has your school been?

And have you been aware that Public Health Nurses are there to help you?

We'd love to hear your experiences.

PS Keep your eyes peeled for an updated version of Allergy New Zealand's Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines for Schools and Early Childcare Centres.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What do your kids think about their allergies?

Do you know what your kids think about their allergies? With Allergy Awareness Week looming (15-21 May), it would be great if you could ask them a couple of questions and email these to us. These are general, informal questions to see how much food allergy impacts on day to day life. The questions are aimed at children aged between five and 12. It may be better to get a friend of the family to ask these questions so your child doesn't feel as though there is a wrong or right question.

And this is completely unscientific, but a great way to get some stories from the kids!

1. What is your name? How old are you?
2. Where do you live?
3. What are your favorite things to do? Do you do them alone or with others?
4. What do you like to eat? What do you dislike eating?
5. What do you think you will do when you grow up?
6. What does your family celebrate? How do they celebrate?
7. What do you do on your birthday?
8. Who is in your family?
10. Do you have things to do every day that you don’t like doing? What are they?
11. What would be the best thing someone could give you?
12. What is your day like? (When do you get up? What do you do all day? When do you go to sleep? Etc.)

Thanks for your help and either email your responses to or paste them below. We will look at publishing these on the Allergy New Zealand website but will withhold names.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Easter madness

It's that time of year again and the emails have been running hot with

tips on where to find certain Easter Eggs and how many are left on the shelves.

In fact, exactly the same scenario as every other year. I pity anyone who does not belong to an allergy network at this time of the year as otherwise you would end up eggless.

Last year, after doing several reconnaissance missions to K-Mart to see if they had yet stocked the elusive Kinnerton chocolate Easter egg, a group of us hit the jackpot. These chocs had just been stacked on the shelves.

After buying our booty, we let our network know and within a couple of hours there was not a single Kinnerton choc egg left.

(I have to add here that each of us was very responsible and only bought one per family.)

We were all very happy - especially when we discovered Heritage chocolates that made peanut and nut-free eggs.

A couple of days before Easter I hit the same aisles to get eggs for the rest of the family and overheard a mother talking to her daughters. She was looking for peanut/nut-free eggs and they were all gone. I felt so sorry for her, and made me appreciate my network all the more.

This year, our network has been keeping a steady stocktake - letting us know that there were three eggs left at one Warehouse store, or two at K-mart way out somewhere. It would be quite entertaining if there wasn't the stress of getting that egg!

People have asked why Allergy New Zealand doesn't import Kinnerton chocolate and it is not for want of trying. We contacted them last year (after Easter) and we would have to order it by the refrigerated container load, and one container contains a lot of chocolate. A bit too much for a very small organisation to handle.

Now we have more drama on the Easter egg front with Lindt recalling 11 of their products because some of them have been filled with peanut butter and not labelled as such. Hopefully no one here with a peanut allergy has had one of these.

Does this mean there will be an Easter egg shortage all round, and will there be a backlash again those with peanut allergy if there is?

What lengths have you gone to to get Easter Eggs for your kids - or for yourself? And do you have any alternatives?

Inga Stünzner
Allergy New Zealand

Friday, February 25, 2011

Christchurch disaster - and finding safe food

No one has been left untouched by the horror of the Christchurch earthquake - even if we don't live there, we know someone or have family who are affected.

With the lack of water and limited food, we have been worrying for people on specialised diets - particularly those with food allergies.

During the last earthquake, we helped people locate specialised formula and our concern at Allergy New Zealand is that there will be families affected again.

If you know anyone in Christchurch who needs help with specialised food, please let us know so we can do what we can to help. You can call us on 0800 34 0800 ext 2.

This does bring home the message that everyone needs to prepare for disaster - particularly if you or someone in your family has a food allergy. We see the Get Ready, Get Through ads on TV, showing us what to do in case of a national emergency and many of us think it will never happen.

So go to the Get Ready, Get Through website and see what you need to do.

In the meantime, here is their basic list of what you should have in your cupboard (which will hopefully survive a disaster).

Torch with spare batteries or a self-charging torch.

Radio with spare batteries.

Wind and waterproof clothing, sun hats, and strong outdoor shoes.

First aid kit and essential medicines.

Blankets or sleeping bags.

Pet supplies.

Toilet paper and large rubbish bags for your emergency toilet.

Face and dust masks.

Check all batteries every three months. Battery-powered lighting is the safest and easiest. Do not use candles as they can tip over in earthquake aftershocks or in a gust of wind. Do not use kerosene lamps, which require a great deal of ventilation and are not designed for indoor use.

Food and water for at least three days.

Non-perishable food (canned or dried food.

Food, formula and drinks for babies and small children.

Water for drinking. At least 3 litres per person, per day.

Water for washing and cooking.

A primus or gas barbeque to cook on.

A can opener.

Check and replace food and water every twelve months. Consider stocking a two-week supply of food and water for prolonged emergencies such as a pandemic.

If you have ever been in a disaster situation - or you have prepared for one - please let us know what you have done.

In the meantime, our thoughts are with everyone in Christchurch.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Catering a function for 10 people — how hard could it be?

Recently I volunteered to cater for my work’s board meeting. I’ve done catering before — how hard could it be? All I had to do was supply morning and afternoon tea and lunch for 10. Here’s the catch: half of them had food allergies.

Still it didn’t seem too hard, as where I live there are many stores catering for those with food allergies and all those I was catering for are reasonable people, none of them expecting to be able to eat everything I supplied. I like to make sure everyone is happy and I wanted to be able to offer at least some choice to those with allergies.

So I started designing my menu around the person with the longest list of allergies. Here comes the hard part. Apart from the allergies to wheat, eggs, dairy, nuts, sesame and soy, he also is allergic to salicylates, which means a lot of fruit and vegies are off his list. I had a mission on my hands but I was not going to let it beat me.

Usually once I have decided on my menu I go shopping (taking about an hour) then prep and cook (around two hours) then pack and take to the venue and dish up (about another hour).

This time I took three and a half hours to shop, reading all the fine print on the labels and double checking. At the deli counter I asked for the ingredients of their salads, explaining that because of allergies I must have an exact list (not just a vague list off the top of their heads then being offered a taste!!!) otherwise I didn’t want it. I decided against this option anyway after I saw someone else being served and some of their salad choice dropped in the salad I was thinking of buying.

Compared to the supermarket, the specialist shops were like a breath of fresh air where I didn’t have to explain about cross contamination and that ‘spices’ on an ingredients list was too vague (exact means exact). When I had finished shopping I was exhausted from the mental stress, and then I had to start cooking.

I looked at my clean kitchen and worried. “What about cross contamination in my own house?” I have no allergies so cook everything I want in it. Even before I unpacked the groceries I scrubbed all surfaces and utensils I was going to use. I also bought ‘normal’ bread and dressings for those on the board who did not have allergies so I was extra careful with the packing as well to make sure nothing contaminated anything else. I also printed out a menu stating the whole ingredients list.

I managed to pull the whole thing together, but I was worn out from the stress involved in making sure all the ingredients were fine for the guests. I slept that night for 11 hours straight.

But I also feel I achieved something. All the board members could eat most things on the menu, it was tasty and it looked good on the plate. What more could you ask for, apart from all the stress!

Barbara Haughey
Office Manager
Allergy New Zealand

PS Our summer issue of Allergy Today is out now. Click here to get your copy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

What do turning 40 and sky diving have to do with allergies?

Charlotte Korte wanted to do something exciting for her 40th birthday - and the idea of jumping out of a plane at great height appealed. She also has had two children with severe allergies and, having been through the allergy journey, decided to put her dare-devil antics to good use. So the idea of sky diving and raising money for Allergy New Zealand's education and research programmes was born.

Charlotte will be doing the dive on 20 November, so please help her raise funds for us (and ultimately you) by donating online here.
Thank you for your support.