Nutty Allergies

Photo by Selena Qian

Ginger Thompson was feeding nine-month-old son, Garrett Thompson, a baby-food-sized container of mashed potatoes when he began getting a reaction. He was immediately taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The doctor believed that Thompson had an allergy. However, when doing an allergy test, he found that Thompson didn’t have just one food allergy; he had three of them.

Thompson said, “I’m allergic to milk, egg and peanuts. I just have to avoid some foods. For some people that might have developed an allergy later on, I could see it being hard, but I was born with it. So I don’t see any other difference.”

Thompson, now a junior, continues to live with these food allergies. Having three food allergies is considered to be very rare. His allergies are also anaphylactic, which means that they are life-threatening allergies. He has to pack his lunch every school day because he can’t have school lunch. If he is at an event, he either has to ask someone if he can eat the food or not eat anything at all.

“My peanut allergy is a lot more severe than some of the other allergies like milk and eggs. If I were to digest a peanut, or anything related to peanuts, my esophagus would swell up and close, and I would suffocate. This would happen within a five minute period,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he doesn’t see this as that much of a challenge. However, an incident in middle school made him wish he never had his food allergies. While eating lunch a group of boys bullied Thompson by putting yogurt in the hood of his jacket. That same day Thompson went to the nurse’s office with a swollen-shut eye because he had itched his eye with his hand that had yogurt on it. Thompson’s mom immediately went to the school board and told them what happened.

Thompson said, “It was just like, ‘apologize to him.’ That was it. There weren’t any repercussions for what they did.”

Thompson’s family, which includes two younger siblings, had to adjust their diets to accommodate Thompson’s allergies. Thompson said he appreciates his mom because she looks through every food to make sure Thompson can eat it. She also tries to find new foods for him to try, and she always looks for substitutes to foods such as coconut milk ice cream or soda-soaked cake. Most of the meals his family eats are foods that Thompson can eat.

If I were to digest a peanut, or anything related to peanuts, my esophagus would swell up and close, and I would suffocate.

Junior Garrett Thompson

“Every once in a while they’ll have pizza, and I’ll have something else. It’s not always food that I can eat, but just about every meal usually goes with what I can eat. I kind of feel bad for it because I feel like some people shouldn’t have to give up that much just for me to have a meal,” Thompson said.

Dr. Frederick Leickly, a pediatric allergist through Riley Hospital at IU Health, said that it is good for relatives and friends to be concerned with what a person with a food allergy can eat, and it’s also good to ask questions about the allergy to make sure the person with the allergy is not in harm’s way.

Thompson’s peanut allergy will continue to become worse as he gets older. When he was little he could accidently eat a peanut and only get a rash. Now, if he digests it, he will have to rush to the hospital.

“Maybe a year ago, I was playing cards with the rest of the family, and my brother was eating peanuts. Just the oil from his fingers on the cards distributed. I had touched the cards, and later that day I touched my eye. It was swollen shut for two days,” Thompson said.

The bright side for Thompson is that his milk and egg allergies will decrease, even though he will never be able to drink a glass of milk or eat scrambled eggs. Currently, he can eat baked goods such as casseroles and cupcakes.

Leickly said, “If you have a milk allergy or an egg allergy, there’s an 80 percent chance that that may be gone during your teenage years. If you have a peanut allergy, there’s about 20 percent of that population that will outgrow a peanut allergy. With a tree nut allergy we’re finding about 10 percent that may outgrow their allergy.”

Below: Eggs and almonds, two foods that Thompson is allergic to.

Photos by Shreeram Thirunavukkarasu

Thompson has done an oral desensitization for his milk and egg allergies. According to Leickly, oral desensitization is currently in its research stages. In this process the person with the food allergy is given small doses of what they are allergic to. This can help a person become more tolerant of their food allergy. Thompson said he wouldn’t do the process again because he didn’t feel good when he did it.

Thompson said he doesn’t carry an epinephrine auto-injector such as an EpiPen or an Auvi-Q because he knows what he can and cannot eat. Leickly does not suggest this because he said that the allergy disasters happen because someone who knew that they were food-allergic didn’t realize certain foods contained what they were allergic to.

Leickly said, “I tell families, ‘What if you go out on a rowboat, and you left the life preserver back on the beach. And then the rowboat gets a leak, and you can’t swim?’ It’s better to be prepared. People over long periods of time can be lulled into false senses of security. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Thompson is glad that he has friends and family that understand his situation. He said, “All of my family and friends are just awesome about my allergies. They have understood from day one and they just accommodate with it to the last detail. And they go above and beyond,” Thompson said. “I shouldn’t be special for that because I was born with it, and it’s my daily routine. It’s not any different for me. Some people don’t realize that.”

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Sitha Vallabhaneni