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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

'Lactose intolerant vs Milk Allergy' - How My Young Camper is Educating Adults one Grown-up at a Time

As I was preparing to send off of my 11 year old, 6th grader with milk and tree nut allergies to an outdoor science camp, this food allergy Mama was a bit nervous.  Although I could attend the last 2 1/2 days as a chaperone, that left her with 2 1/2 days to be in charge of advocating for herself, if need be.  She proved that I had little to worry about.

Here's the story she told me, almost ONE WEEK after camp was over.  

As she was sitting down to have lunch, one of the counselors joined her.  This young lady struck up a conversation with my daughter about her allergies.  It went something like this:

S.A.F.E. - Sending my Food Allergic Daughter Off to Camp

Counselor:  " So you are gluten intolerant?".
Daughter:  "No, I have a milk allergy".  
Counselor:  "Oh, so you're lactose intolerant".
Daughter: "No, I am milk allergic".
Counselor: "Well, they are the same thing".
Daughter: "No, they're not". 
Counselor: "Yeah, they are the same thing".
Daughter: "No, they're not.  Lactose intolerant has to do with sugars in the milk.  Milk Allergy has to do with proteins in the milk".  
Counselor:  "Oh. How do you know so much about this?"
Daughter:  "Well, I am milk allergic and my mom is really on top of my allergies".


Food Allergies and Outdoor Camp - They Can Go Together

It's amazing to my daughter and me how often when people hear she has 'food allergies' they immediately ask her "are you gluten intolerant?", OR "so you're lactose intolerant?".  

INTOLERANCES AND ALLERGIES ARE NOT THE SAME THING.  

Lactose intolerance  means you can NOT digest the milk sugar (lactose) in products.  It's usually NOT dangerous but symptoms can be uncomfortable.  You may have intestinal problems - bloating, diarrhea, stomach aches.  Some individuals can even take pills so that they can still eat dairy products with minimal side effects.

Milk Allergy is an abnormal response by the body's immune system to milk and products containing milk.  Cow's milk is the usual cause, but milk from sheep, goats and buffalo and other mammals can cause a reaction.  Signs and symptoms of milk allergies can range from mild to severe, sometimes causing anaphylaxis - a life-threatening reaction.

I can NOT tell you how proud I am of my daughter and how she so graciously handled this situation.  She then casually told me how she had a similar conversation with yet another adult at her school who works in the kitchen.  

I reminded her that it's NOT really about me being on top of it.  She IS the one who LIVES with the milk allergy EVERY. DAY. OF. HER. LIFE. 

Embracing our differences and being educated on our challenges makes us better prepared individuals.  My daughter now realizes that when it comes to food allergies, she sometimes DOES know more than others.  She is learning life lessons that even some adults have trouble grasping.  
  • Our Elders do NOT always know better.
  • Don't be afraid to speak up for your needs.
  • Being and Advocate for yourself is necessary, and could be life saving.
  • There are educational moments at the most unexpected times.
In the big picture, we ONLY have these kids for a short period of time and we need to equip them with the tools and confidence to know they can take care of themselves. What a relief it is to know that my food allergy kids are becoming adept at advocating for themselves. I wish the same for you ~

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