Imagine living with the constant fear that your child may unknowingly eat something that contains a given food, even just a trace of it, to which he is severely allergic. Within minutes the adverse reaction takes hold: the child’s throat swells, making it difficult to breathe. If emergency assistance is not delivered immediately, the situation can quickly become life-threatening.
These angst-producing circumstances are becoming increasingly common. Nearly 6 million, or 8 percent of children, live with food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education Network. And the numbers are rising. Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut allergy among children appears to have tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Olga and Charles Paterakis know all too well the gut-wrenching fear induced by childhood food allergies.
Their 15-year-old son Evan was born with six food allergies—to egg, dairy, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. He has outgrown some on his own. He is still severely allergic to shellfish, as the family discovered when Evan, just a few months ago, ordered fish at a Florida restaurant that was unknowingly brushed with a sauce containing shellfish, despite the family’s explicit communication with the waiter when ordering. Severe vomiting and an anaphylactic reaction followed, requiring a rush to the nearest ER despite his use of an Epi-pen (a device that looks like a giant needle and delivers a dose of epinephrine to combat an acute allergic reaction).
Then there’s Evan’s dairy allergy.
Thanks to the Paterakis’ pediatrician and allergist, Robert Wood, M.D., Evan can now freely eat food containing dairy products. “His confidence skyrocketed after he knew he could eat pizza at birthday parties, cake if he wanted,” Olga Paterakis said.