Be well, Marsha: 10/13

What some kids eat makes them sick

By Marsha Bonhart
P-E-A-N-U-T. Readers of this paper already know what those letters spell. Darryl and Patricia Griffin taught their toddler son to identify those letters in that same arrangement because they wanted to make sure he knew how to save his own life.

Jared Christopher Griffin, at 18, is a smart, savvy, musically talented first-year at Indiana University. His academic college scholarship to one of the nation’s top music schools is an indication of his intellect. At age 3, Jared could already read, even though at the time, “peanut” was the only word he could fully interpret. That skill, however, was critical because Jared has a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to certain foods, called anaphylaxis. In his case, that response is caused by nuts and fish.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when he was small, Jared was one of about 6 million American children with food allergies, as cited by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Those allergies include cow’s milk, soy, wheat, corn, eggs, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. The Griffins say Jared’s allergic reactions didn’t show up until he was about 2-and-a-half-years-old, which, according to the CDC, is the average age those hypersensitivities appear. His most severe food allergy to the peanut is one of the more common for kids.

“It was a simple peanut butter sandwich,” his mother Patricia says. “I wanted him to have a snack, and when he ate a small piece, the reaction was evident. After that, we had an allergist test him.”

Then, there was another incident. Patricia ate a fast food restaurant fish sandwich and kissed little Jared on his cheek. Immediately, huge, red welts broke out on his arms, face and neck—the family then learned fish would also not be on Jared’s personal menu.

Other symptoms of severe food allergies include swelling and closing of the airway, face and ears, stomach ache, cramps, nausea, shortness of breath, hives, itching, fast heartbeat and low blood pressure. Without treatment, according to the CDC, Jared, and anyone else with his same allergies, could die.

The Griffins removed nuts and fish from their only son’s diet, but they were still concerned about those times he was away from them, with a babysitter or at pre-school. So they taught him to read labels to identify the word, “peanut,” which for him, would mean life or death.

“Once at a friend’s house,” his mom recalls, “he was offered potato chips and he asked if they were made in peanut oil. Our friend answered, ‘no.’ That answer wasn’t enough for him because she saw him looking for the word ‘peanut’ on the list of ingredients on the back of the bag. He was 3 years old at the time.”

With the first allergic reactions, the Griffins had liquid Benedryl on hand. That antihistamine moderated the symptoms, but they soon purchased an epinephrine, or Epi, auto injector. Among other remedies of allergic symptoms, epinephrine relaxes the muscles of a swollen, tight airway. Jared also carries Benadryl gel tablets as a secondary relief and then gets immediate, professional, emergency, medical treatment. Since he has left home for college, the Griffins have changed their teenager’s medication to Auvi-Q. This medication, packaged as the size of a credit card, for them, has more than a $100 health insurance co-pay. Luckily, there have been no incidents for Jared to use it, but he knows Benedryl is also the accompanying fix in case he ingests the wrong food.

In an article on the women’s health website Lifescript, actress/comedian Kym Whitley says her 4-year-old son Joshua knows there are foods he can’t eat because he, too, has anaphylaxis. Chicken, corn, shellfish and peaches make him violently ill. For babysitters and guests, a magnetized sheet on her refrigerator tells them what to do in case of a food allergy emergency. She also reads food labels carefully, looking for products that may read, “contains nuts or nut products.” When dining out with her little boy, she asks questions about what is used to prepare certain foods and also about cross contamination with serving utensils. Like the Griffins when Jared was young, Whitley also carries an EpiPen, but she chooses the antihistamine diphenhydramine as the second medication.

In the same article, Whitley talks about her designed line of clothing, “Don’t Feed Me.” She says the T-shirts are designed for kids like Josh who are too little to read and can’t articulate the foods they shouldn’t have. Little Josh isn’t as astute about his condition as Jared was at an even younger age, so when Josh is away from his mom, he wears the colorful shirts that list the foods to which he is allergic with check marks next to the names of the dangerous dishes. Whitley has also designed bags that hold allergy medications for little kids.

If you suspect a child has food allergies, refer them to a board certified allergist.

Be well,


For more information about Kym Whitley’s line of clothing and bags, please visit

Marsha Bonhart is a veteran television news anchor and health reporter who feels it is her mission to help you stay healthy. She says she battles her seriously addicted craving for salty potato chips. Reach her at

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