Mother of two Rachel Morgan tucked her 8-year-old son Connor into bed with a good night kiss, like she did every night. But on this occasion, within a very short space of time his lips started to swell, then blister. Connor is anaphylactic - which means he has a life-threatening allergy - to sesame seeds, peanuts, pistachios and cashews. But Rachel knew he hadn’t eaten anything with nuts in it. She thought back through the events of her day – and remembered the salad that she had for lunch that day had pistachios in it.
“I felt like the worst mother in the world” recalls Rachel. But this is nothing to do with parenting skills – for kids like Connor, even coming into contact with traces of nuts so small they can’t be seen can trigger a severe reaction.
In addition to his food-induced anaphylaxis, Connor also has asthma. Although not formally diagnosed until he was old enough to perform a spirometry test, Connor first displayed symptoms as a 2-year-old when unwell with a cold. The family’s GP at the time was asthmatic themselves and Rachel remembers feeling very supported during that time. This became even more important six months later when they decided to have Connor tested for allergies (via skin prick testing) because they knew his grandmother had a nut allergy, and his severe food allergies were diagnosed. Having a cold continued to be his only obvious asthma trigger, and Rachel has always been vigilant with his asthma medicines when he is unwell, but when he was well she didn’t give it a second thought. This all changed after a visit to the allergist last year.
Connor had a cold and was in the middle of a pretty bad asthma flare up when Rachel took him to their specialist allergist for a routine check-up. After seeing him, the allergist wasted no time in giving the family a crash course in the important of good asthma control. This is important for anyone with asthma, but for people who have anaphylaxis, poorly controlled asthma increases the severity of the allergic reaction.
The Morgans also discovered the importance of managing other allergies for good asthma control, when they found out that Connor is also allergic to cats –not great news for a family who has two beloved feline friends aged 16 and 17 respectively! Rachel says they may not bring more cats into the home in future, but in the meantime this family is proving that it is possible in a lot of cases for allergy sufferers to live companionably with pets. Connor uses a nasal spray, he knows not to touch the cats and they don’t go into his bedroom. “He’s a different child now”, says Rachel. “He used to be constantly sick, but he’s only had one cold since using the nasal spray.” Rachel also vacuums every day – she has two Sensitive Choice approved Dyson vacuum cleaners, a full size as well as a hand held model.
Since that visit to the allergist almost 18 months ago, Connor has taken his asthma preventer medication Flixotide daily without exception, whether he is well or not. In the past when Connor had cold-induced asthma flare ups he usually ended up having to take a course of Prednisolone due to the severity. But Rachel is delighted to report that although Connor has had asthma flare-ups in the last year and half, since his asthma and also his cat allergy have been well controlled, he hasn’t needed the Prednisolone – his regular treatment protocol is enough.
So far Connor’s food allergies have been treated successfully with over the counter antihistamines, but he carries an EpiPen® (an adrenaline auto-injector) and has one at school. This is kept in the school sick bay with his asthma medicines, as is school policy, but Rachel admits that during an asthma flare-up she has been known to send him off to school with an extra inhaler (and spacer!) and a note for the teacher. Connor has a written asthma action plan, is well educated about the importance of his medicines and his allergies, and is old enough now to let someone know when he needs his puffer, but sometimes you can’t be too careful. “It’s hard not to worry when he goes away camping or on school trips”, says Rachel.
Rachel’s other strategies for helping Connor control his asthma include making sure he gets plenty of exercise and that whenever possible he stays warm and dry to reduce the likelihood of him becoming unwell. He also takes daily vitamin supplements and probiotics, and Rachel does the best that any mother of an 8-year-old can in making sure he has a healthy, balanced diet.
For more information about creating a healthier home for people with asthma and allergies visit here.