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Jay and James with the book they hope will raise allergy awareness. SUR
British mother raises awareness of food allergies among children

British mother raises awareness of food allergies among children

Jay Dickens' son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 14 months, and she has now published a children's book about his successful transition

Tony Bryant

Friday, 21 April 2023, 12:48

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A British mother based in Coín has published a book to help increase awareness about children with food allergies, after her own son, James, was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. The work of Jay Dickens, The Peanut Pirate is a children's book about nine-year-old James and his journey confronting his life-threatening condition, one of the most severe food allergies due to its prevalence and potential severity of allergic reaction.

James, a pupil at Sunland International School in Cártama, was diagnosed with the allergy at the age of 14 months after his mother had given him peanut butter. The initial reaction was dermatological, but the following time it happened, Jay took James for further tests, which showed he had a severe allergy to peanuts as high as those expected in an adult. The youngster was prescribed antihistamine and told to avoid peanuts.

A couple of years later, James bit into a cereal bar that was cross contaminated, which, although he immediately spat it out, left him gasping for breath.

At this point, Jay had not been given any information about anaphylaxis, a serious and potentially fatal allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and requires immediate medical attention. James had also not been prescribed epinephrine, which is the only drug that can reverse anaphylaxis.

"I realised around this time that James' allergy was life-threatening. When I enquired about treatment, I was told Andalucía is not providing any treatment or clinical trials for peanut allergies, just for milk and eggs, so all I could do was avoid peanuts and go on a waiting list for a possible vaccine as and when it was made available," Jay explained.

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Jay decided to take her son to see an allergist, who took blood tests, and the results showed an increase in his allergy by 500 per cent in that year.

Jay was put in touch with a doctor in Granada, who began oral immunotherapy treatment with James, which began with just a 0.001 gram of peanut protein and increased slightly every two weeks.

Oral immunotherapy is a medical treatment in which an individual who is allergic to a specific food consumes an increasing amount of the allergen with the goal of reducing the risk of allergic reactions to the food. James can now tolerate six peanuts a day. The treatment proved to be such a successful transition, Jay wanted to share the story in a children's book - the first in what will be a series entitled The Allergy Adventures.

Positive experience

She began work on the book in 2022 as a result of the challenges her son is facing and the positive experience as he navigated his way at his new school. The book focuses on how James' classmates and teachers have all helped the youngster by understanding his condition and supporting him.

Jay has also set up The Allergy Adventures social media page on Facebook to help raise awareness and connect with other parents with allergic children.

"We still have a long way to go. The worry is constant – school parties, play dates with friends, school trips – and the fear he may come into contact with peanuts accidentally. He carries an epi-pen, but that can be quite scary for other kids until they understand why and how it works," James' mother said.

Food allergies affect around 2.5 per cent of the population worldwide. A peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies and is said to affect between one and three per cent of children, with numbers tripling over the last 20 years.

Jay believes awareness is the key and she is hoping her book, which is available on Amazon, will help children better understand allergies and how they affect people in different ways.

"Much like my allergy awareness advocating, the book is the first step and will be one in a series following James' journey through his formative years at school coping with an allergy," she said.

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