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I am apparently a textbook atopic case. I developed eczema a few days after birth. At the age of nine, I began to develop food allergies. From the ages of 9 to 17, the number of food allergies I had increased. I currently have known allergies to eggs, dairy, shellfish and some nuts. I also developed asthma and allergic rhinitis around the same time, including allergies to animals, environmental and household allergens. Recently, my environmental allergies have worsened and I’ve developed allergic conjunctivitis.
Whew! Now that “the list” is out of the way, the point of this post is to give an idea of my childhood. To be honest, it wasn’t very rosy. I had a very supportive family, but there is no way around the fact that having a child with any condition or illness is a stress on the family. I felt it then and looking back, I see that now. This is especially the case when one parent ends up being the primary caregiver and there are other children in the family who do not have the same conditions.
Eczema was the bane of my existence as a child. I was itchy and exhausted. The sleepless nights took a toll on my entire family. Sleep is such an important thing for a child. It sets their days and more so, it sets their schedules for their entire lives. More and more research is coming out regarding the importance of sleep in health – mental and physical. Whatever you do, ensure your child gets enough sleep.
The other thing I had to contend with was bullying. During a period of my life, some of it was due to racism, but unfortunately children from similar and different cultural backgrounds did pick on me because of my skin. I looked patchy and it was a difference other children exploited. I became a shy, introverted child. Apparently, as a very young child, before our move to a more conservative environment, I was pretty outgoing. I still remember the first time someone called me extroverted. It was a professor and I was in my early 20s. I thought she was crazy, but the more I thought about it, I realised it was true. I had, somehow, overcome my shyness. The bullying had stopped once I reached high school and all I’d needed was time to get through it. Though, for any child going through it, I’m not advocating the “wait-and-see” approach. Even without bullying, children with allergies and atopy often suffer depression and it’s not an overreaction to seek help from a paediatric psychiatrist or certified counsellor. If this is something they end up having for the rest of their lives, they need to develop coping skills.
Now, it’s easier to find other children who have similar conditions and information about what to do, but when I was growing up, atopic and allergic conditions were very rare. I didn’t know another person with any of the conditions I had. What I do remember is that my mother was never too overbearing. Part of her attitude was based on the fact that she was a registered nurse, and therefore rather pragmatic and some of it was just because no one knew any better. She’s probably more concerned now that there’s so much information out there. She still looks at me anytime I try a new food around her though.
As a result, I’m not super afraid of food. I know what I can eat and what I can’t. I carry around an allergy kit with the meds that work for me (epinephrine, puffers, etc.). I wear a MedicAlert bracelet and keep my membership current. I’m not embarrassed to tell people I have a food allergy and if I don’t trust a restaurant, I’ll walk out. I’ve also developed a skin treatment system that works for me. I’m extremely allergic to petroleum (a.k.a. Vaseline, petrolatum, mineral oil); so, I avoid it at all costs. Still, my immunologist raves about the texture of my skin every time I go in and my latest dermatologist said he doesn’t need to see me anymore since I’m able to control the day-to-day issues.
I think that’s the big lesson I had to learn – how to manage it myself. I’ve been to a lot of doctors and tried a lot of things, but I’ve gotten to a stage where I can trust my own opinion and most importantly, myself.
Bio: Tristan developed eczema within a few days after her birth and from the ages of nine to 17, she began to develop other atopic conditions, environmental, animal and food allergies, including eggs, dairy, shellfish and some nuts. Now, in her 30s, she has a good handle on everything, but she’s always trying to see how she can make things better by living a healthier lifestyle.
Check out her atopic and allergic experiences on her blog – Atopic Girl’s Guide to Living, with the goal of helping allergic and atopic teens and adults, since growing up and dealing with allergies and atopy is a lesson in itself.