Holly Robinson Peete learned the hard way the horrific effect dairy has on her youngest boy.

“I was multitasking, nursing him while on the phone eating a Gorgonzola salad,” explains the actress, philanthropist, wife and mother of four. “A piece of cheese fell in his ear canal. I didn't know until an emergency room visit later that he's so severely anaphylactic to dairy that his whole ear blew up.”

All in the family

From peanuts to soy, each of Peete's kids suffers from some type of allergy. She first learned her twins had an intolerance for gluten after her son had a complete work-up following an autism diagnosis.

“This was in 2000. I said 'What is gluten'?”

"I didn't know until an emergency room visit later that he's so severely anaphylactic to dairy that his whole ear blew up.”

Peete began doing her homework and as her other children began suffering adverse reactions to certain foods, she stressed the importance of knowing what items to avoid.

“They are very aware of their siblings and their health. They advocate for each other.”

Keeping the pantry full

Peete always keeps dairy-free and gluten-free snacks on hand, from chips and pretzels to pizza and rice milk. And she's noticed a big change in the food industry.

 

“When I used to shop for the twins, you had a teeny weeny gluten-free section and there were no gluten-free menus. In the last 15 years it's like night and day. Things have come so far since 2000, when we used to try and get gluten-free snacks and they all tasted like cardboard.”

Awareness and prevention are key

As for parents who are angered by schools' allergen-free policies, including bans on peanut butter sandwiches, Peete admits she's troubled by their lack of compassion. She cautions, “Until you've seen your kid's anaphylactic reaction, you know, peanuts kill. Unfortunately, that's the way it is.”

Peete also says being prepared with proper treats, antihistamines or other medication is crucial.

“Find out from your doctor if you need to carry an EpiPen. Carry a little emergency kit, and spread the word. Share the information with schools, family, friends and whoever is in your kid's circle.”