• Thu, Dec 5 - 12:00 pm ET

My Son’s School Called To Tell Me He Was Having An Allergic Reaction And I Freaked The Eff Out

shutterstock_95047960I have friends with children that have serious life-threatening allergies.  I listen to them talk about ordering special candy for Halloween and lobbying for Epi-Pens at camp with wide-eyed fascination.  Even beyond my friends, I am pretty obsessed with the lives of all allergy moms, reading with gaping mouth the cries that children with peanut allergies shouldn’t be able to fly or with tears in my eyes at the mothers who tried so hard to bake an allergen-free cake, and one kid ended up in the hospital.  So when my son’s school called and told me he was having an allergic reaction, I totally freaked the eff out.

I recognized the school’s number and answered on the first ring.  The teacher started with, “Let me first tell you that your son is fine.”  Right…so you are calling just to say hi?  She went on despite my silence.  “He seems to be having some kind of allergic reaction.”  I immediately stood up at my desk, having no idea what that would do, but feeling compelled to do it anyway.  Ohmygod, is he dying?  What’s happening?  Panic rose instantly in my throat.

“He doesn’t have any allergies that we are aware of,” I offer lamely wondering if she’s checked his breathing.

“Has he eaten anything unusual today?”  She’s been his teacher since September and should know by now that my son doesn’t eat anything that isn’t fruit or slathered in cream cheese.  The truth is I can’t say with 100% certainty that he isn’t allergic to peanut butter because he’s never touched the stuff.  So eating something “unusual” was pretty much an impossibility.

She asked that I come pick him up right away, although didn’t she realize I was at work and ohmygod I don’t have the power to zap myself there in an instant to save my baby’s life!  “He seems ok, but we take allergies very seriously here,” she said.

He seemed ok?  I wanted to ask her if she had seen that article where the girl was fine one minute and then DIED after a bite of a Rice Krispie treat even though she had Benadryl and three Epi-Pens and her father was a doctor and there with her the whole time?!?!?!   But clearly she hadn’t or maybe she was just trying to act cool, but I decided it was best not to waste time explaining.

Instead I hung up and called my doctor, asking if I could bring my son in immediately.  As in immediately after I got on an express train uptown, picked up my kid and then got on a train downtown to get there and ohmygod I hope he doesn’t die by then!  The receptionist didn’t pick up on the terror in my voice.  She said they had an appointment at 2:30 (that was four hours later).

“Aren’t allergies serious?” I begged.  ”Like potentially life-threatening?”

“Is your son allergic to anything?”

“Not that I’m aware of — though all evidence to the contrary.”

“We’ll have the doctor call you back and she can decide if you need to take him to the ER.”

The doctor called by the time I got to the school and got a look at him.  His face was swollen like a chipmunk and as red as a Santa suit, but otherwise he seemed ok. The doctor asked me a bunch of questions and we decided the best course of action was to give him Benadryl and watch him.  So I did.  I watched him like he was Pitch Perfect on HBO, never taking my eyes off him.  The swelling and redness went down with every dose of medicine and he was fine the next day, but I have a whole new level of empathy for moms who know their kids have allergies and worry about this kind of stuff day in and day out.

(photo: auremar/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
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  • Kay_Sue

    “I watched him like he was Pitch Perfect on HBO.” I laughed her. I didn’t want to, because I was commiserating with the fear and pressure of this situation, but I had to. I am so glad he’s okay, though!

    • Carinn Jade

      It’s been a few days so I was able to find some humor in it myself. Plus, I just love any reference to Pitch Perfect.

    • Kay_Sue

      Ditto that!

  • EX

    Your reaction sounds about right to me. I would’ve freaked the eff out too. Glad he’s ok. Did they ever figure out what caused it?

    • Carinn Jade

      No idea. So strange!

    • Magrat

      I once had a mild allergic reaction to, as far as I can tell, ahi tuna. Never before and never since. I wonder if it’s possible to have one-off reactions, or if there was something mysterious in that salad…

  • Jem

    something like this happened to my husband out of the blue one day. never been allergic to anything his entire life and then he takes a tylenol and this happens. At the time we thought it was chips or something he ate but he had the same reaction to dayquil (with tylenol in it) a week later. He had taken tylenol quite a few times in his life, and then out of nowhere this allergy popped up. His reaction went away with benadryl as well.

  • LiteBrite

    I’ve had a couple of those calls too. Both happened at my son’s last daycare. One time was to tell me he was having some kind of allergic reaction to strained peas. The other time was after he had been outside playing in the water. Both times I picked him up, and both times I watched him like a hawk. He was fine, but geez, I freaked out too.

    (In regards to the water incident, I’ve noticed he does have reactions like that, even now. Anytime he’s in a pool, or playing in any kind of water outside, he’ll get dermatitis later that night. It’s the weirdest thing. We’ve taken to giving him a children’s allergy pill any time we know he’s going to be in water.)

    Glad your son is okay. Allergic reactions are nothing to screw around with.

    • Ptownsteveschick

      Is your water heavily chlorinated? I never used to have issues, but since moving somewhere where the water is definitely packed with chlorine, I get small hives on my neck/face and chest every time I take a shower.

    • AP

      It could also be the pH or alkalinity of the water causing hives. I was a pool supervisor and I had to learn all of the signs of unbalanced pool chemicals. The chlorine being too high can cause skin irritation, but so can an imbalance in pH (too high or too low), or an imbalance in alkalinity.

      We used to test the tap water periodically to see what we were pumping into the pool, and I have to say, tap water can have some crazy readings. I often got a chlorine of 2.0 ppm (same as a pool!) and a pH of 9, straight out of the tap.

      If you’re curious, pool test kits aren’t that expensive and are pretty easy to use if you follow the directions.

    • LiteBrite

      Good to know. This would explain why he can go in some pools and come out just fine and others just make his skin go bananas.

  • Anna

    This has happened to me once with each of my kids. Both times the school nurse (hooray for school nurses!) used the EpiPen, called 911, then called me. Both times I raced out of my house and got there just as the paramedics arrived. (We live close, a few blocks closer than the fire department.) It was positively terrifying, even with known allergies and an emergency plan in place. I can’t imagine getting a call like that out of the blue.

  • pixie

    I’m glad your son is ok. I have an anaphylactic allergy to tree nuts (my throat closes) but don’t get hives or swelling on the outside (or at least I haven’t waited long enough to find out if I do). Anytime I start to feel a little funky, I start getting nervous, trying to remember what I ate. Normally I’m fine, but it can be scary.

    I can also relate to your perspective because my dad has developed a serious unknown allergy in the past few years. We think it’s to acetacylic acid (found in NSAIDs like advil and aspirin as well as fruits and vegetables), but we’re not entirely sure. It’s terrifying when he starts to react, though, and needs to go to the hospital.

  • LadyClodia

    My son has had allergic reactions, but nothing at school yet. I know there’s no way to know what your son’s was from, but that, in itself, would drive me crazy. Just a few weeks ago mine ended up with hives all over his upper body; the only new things that I used on him/he consumed were Cerave lotion and children’s Zyrtec. I still don’t know what caused the hives because I’m too worried to use either of them on him again.
    I probably freaked out more the last time my husband had an allergic reaction, though. It’s scary.
    Also, isn’t it such a weird thing that the receptionist asked if he’s allergic to anything? It’s not like they come printed with their allergies. I knew my son was allergic to peanuts, but I had no idea he was also allergic to almonds until he had allergy tests done. So I would have said no, but the answer would have been yes.
    I’m glad your son is OK, and hopefully it was an isolated incident.

    • Carinn Jade

      I remember they asked me that at my daughter’s one month check-up. Four weeks old — I had barely taken her outside. How was I going to know if she had any allergies?!?! Hahaha – exactly, it’s not like they come with a printed label!

  • Rrlo

    That’s scary. But try not to obsess over it. He may never have this reaction again. It doesn’t have to be something he ate. It could be something he inhaled or touched. Also, not all allergies produce anaphylactic reactions. If you read the statistics (not news articles) death from anaphylaxis is very rare these days.

    And sometimes some fruits or veggies produce too much histamine in the body causing a reaction.

    Anyway, unless it happens again there is not much you can do about it. And there is a chance it may not happen again.

  • JussyLee

    I’ve had allergic reactions on an almost yearly basis, usually after consuming fruit (always random, no specific fruit seems to be the trigger). I get nasty hives and swelling in my face and hands. Benedryl helps. I’ve never experienced anaphylaxis. I understand that allergic reactions are unpredictable, and that makes them seem really scary. However, allergy symptoms aren’t subtle, and treatment is straightforward, accessible, and effective. I’ve never panicked over my allergies, and I doubt I’ll panic if my kid ever has a reaction. It’s a situation where you DO have a measure of control.

  • guest

    When my dog’s eye swelled up from allergies, the vet said bring him in immediately. I don’t know who’s more effed up, doctors or vets.

  • http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/ Lynda Mitchell

    I’m sorry this happened to your son! It sounds like it was very scary. The most important part about managing allergies (especially food allergies) is avoidance measures and being prepared to treat one, should one occur again. It’s hard to know what to avoid though, if you don’t know what caused it. Reactions are unpredictable – a mild reaction can be followed next time with a severe reaction. I hope your child’s doctor recommended following up to debrief and discuss what the next steps are. Your doctor may recommend (or you might want to ask about) going to see an allergist to have an evaluation and testing to find out what caused the reaction and to have an action plan in place in case one recurs. Best wishes for safety and health.

  • Nutrimom

    SO scary but we are all here for you if you need us!

  • Julie Sane

    This does sound scary. My daughter has an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. Although you can’t know what he reacted to previously, I hope your doctor recommended that you follow up with a board certified food allergist. They can do a simple skin or blood test that can give you answers. While he may not react again, if he does have an allergy, it would be best to have an epi-pen readily available.

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