When Texas mum Julie Ferrier Berghaus took her three-year-old to hospital to undergo allergy testing, she had no idea that it would spark a life-threatening reaction – and provide vital health information that would safeguard her daughter in the future.
Julie took Maren in for a controlled tree nut challenge — where doctors give her small doses of various nuts to monitor her reaction and check for any allergies.
Maren had apparently tested positive for allergies to all nuts in the past. But she had since tried a few different types of nuts with no reaction at all.
Doctors wanted to confirm her allergy status a little more accurately hence this controlled challenge procedure.
What followed was surprising and terrifying, and Julie wants to share it with others in the hopes that they’ll take any initial signs of allergic reaction very seriously. She also hopes it might help people to understand how dangerous allergies can be.
One-tenth of a cashew
Doctors gave Maren one-tenth of a cashew. Remember that she’d actually been able to eat some nuts without any drama prior to this round of testing. Here is how her little girl’s controlled tree nut challenge played out:
1. A tummy ache and a bit itchy
“Her first symptom was simply itchy ears within five minutes,” Julie writes. “She was perfectly happy, and playing still though. Then she started complaining of a belly ache. She then started to itch all over. No rash was present at this point.”
We’re around the seven-minute point right now.
2. Calmed by an Epipen and Zyrtec
“They decided to administer her first epi shot at this point, because she was exhibiting two symptoms, belly pain and itching,” Julie continues. “They also gave her oral Zyrtec. The shot calmed everything for about ten minutes.”
We’re at something like the 17-minute mark at this point, give or take.
3. Hives and prednisolone
“After the ten minutes was up, she really started itching a lot more. Upon inspection, her entire body was quickly breaking out in severe hives before our very eyes. She quickly became covered in huge hives. They gave her a shot of prednisolone at this point. She was still playing, and not showing signs of distress”
So now it’s been almost half an hour, according to Julie’s post.
4. Slow blood pressure, high pulse rate, chest tightness
“Around five minutes later, she started coughing a little bit. We couldn’t hear her breathing hard or wheezing at all. We called the nurse just to double check, and she listened with her stethoscope. She said she was wheezing and tight. When her vitals were taken, her sats were in the low 80’s, her bp was low, and her pulse was high. Amazingly, she was still just playing, and just annoyed with the itchy hives!”
We’re almost 35 minutes in. 35 minutes since Maren ate the tiniest crumb of a cashew nut. This is how long it took for things to get really, really dicey. Life-threatening, in fact.
5. Blacking out
“It all changed moments later,” a rattled Julie writes. “They laid her down quickly, and she then started blacking out. They gave her an albuterol treatment, and another shot of epi. An IV was started with a dose of solu medrol given. She was lethargic and out of it for around ten minutes, before she started coming around again.”
How terrifying is that? It took well over half an hour for Maren to have a full and very severe reaction – and ultimately almost lose consciousness.
My daughter recently had a controlled tree nut challenge at her allergist. She went into anaphylaxis during the trial….
“It snuck up”
Julie says her three-year-old had to be carefully observed for hours afterwards “because anaphylaxis can return in a second round, just as severe as the first,” noting that it’s vital to call an ambulance if this happens to someone in your life.
Apart from it being a terrifying experience for everyone involved, Julie was shocked by how covert a series allergic reaction can be.
“It was nothing like we expected to see. It snuck up on us so unexpectedly and quietly. I expected to see choking, gasping, hear wheezing, and see her grabbing at her chest and neck area. I expected the entire ordeal to be very fast and obvious and dramatic. It was actually very silent, and she didn’t show any severe trouble until very late in the game.”
“If she hadn’t already been given meds before she blacked out, I don’t want to think of how severe it could’ve been.”
Use the EpiPen
Julie urges people to take allergies seriously. They are not a fad or a neurosis – they are a life-threatening sensitivity.
She also urges people to NEVER hesitate to use an EpiPen, noting her daughter had no side-effects from the dose she was given. Julie says it’s important to note that in a case like Maren’s it was a combination of medications that saved her life. Call 000 as soon as you suspect an allergic reaction to get a vital head start on treatment.
And for goodness sake, be allergy aware and look out for those who – like Maren – could suffer a terrible reaction from even the slightest exposure.
(And remember that Maren was able to eat some nuts with no issue!)
Read more stories about allergies in children:
- Nut-free lunch boxes are everyone’s responsibility – so choose wisely
- 10 things all food allergy mums know to be true
- 10 things you probably believe about allergies that are totally wrong
- A new vaccine could soon stop peanut allergy in its tracks
- New expert advice says give babies peanut butter before 12 months
- Why everyone needs to be educated about severe allergies
- Does ‘spit cleaning’ your baby’s dummy help prevent future allergies?
- More allergy articles