The Butler’s Allergy Journey: John’s Chemical Allergies

The day John started preschool was nerve-racking, to say the least. If I’m being honest, I barely trust most family members to take care of him because of his allergies, so to hand him over to strangers at the age of two, for an entire day, was really tough. The fact that they had to feed him, although it was food that I packed for him, was frightening. Plus there were all of the unknowns, the paint, glue, playdoh, and other kids. I made sure I met with his teachers and director several times before he started, and he was prepared with his epi-pen, allergen ID bracelet, and lunch box filled with safe snacks and lunch. But seeing the pure joy and excitement on his face when we walked in made all of my anxiety worth it. 

John was attending school two days a week and the first few days went well. He was happy and the teachers reported there were no problems. Then I started getting phone calls every day at work. John was developing rashes on his hands one day and his face the next. He was acting fine, no other concerning symptoms but they were on high alert. I sent in his soap from home that I knew wouldn’t irritate his skin and was hoping it was a simple matter of John’s sensitive skin. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and I had to contact the allergist. She believed it could be things they were using during arts and crafts such as shaving cream but suggested I bring him in for patch testing.

John was only two at the time but endured the grueling three-day patch test to see what chemicals were causing his allergic contact dermatitis. He came up positive to six chemicals: Amerchol L101, Compositae Mix, Fragrance Mix, Methylisothiazolinone, p-tert-Butylphenol Formaldehyde Resin, and Propylene Glycol. Luckily they provided me with an app that has all of these listed and provides information on what products do not contain these. They also handed me a lot of information about where these chemicals are commonly found. These are found in things like furniture polish, paper, waxes, cosmetics, skincare products, baby products, toothpaste, laundry detergent, paint, glue, ink, disinfectants, and shaving cream. These are also found in foods. Some foods propylene glycol can be found in are avocados and donuts, and fragrance mix can be found in breath mints and ice cream. Thankfully, John doesn’t eat these foods but I’ve come to learn these chemicals are everywhere. They are hiding all over his classroom and now I have to make sure the school will be able to keep him safe. This was going to be a challenge.

I met with his teachers and director to explain the findings and they were very eager to help me find a solution. We decided I would look into some products that might be safe for him, try them out at home and then send them to school for his use only. The allergist also wanted instruments, such as paintbrushes, used by John only as well so there was no cross-contamination. In the end, I was able to provide paint, glue, playdoh, and anything else they were looking for. If there was ever a special project we would discuss it ahead of time. If it involved food, I would make a safe version for John to match the rest of the class. The only thing I was unable to find a replacement for was shaving cream, but they had him do something else and he never felt like he missed out. 

His first few months at preschool started off rocky, but his second year was much different. He started back in September with the same teachers, in the same classroom, and he thrived. He had all of his safe arts and crafts, his safe food, and everyone was on the same page as to how to keep him safe. I barely got any phone calls at work, and if I did, it was the usual preschooler, “John got hit in the head with a truck” call. I was sad this year ended so abruptly but Allison will be joining John at the same school next year and will have the teachers he’s had for the last year and a half. I’m super excited, especially because they took such great care of him and she may need a little extra TLC after her surgery this summer.