The Mighty Logo

The Conversation You Should Have With Your Neighbor With Severe Allergies About Birdseed

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Who doesn’t love to see a cardinal flitting through their yard on a crisp summer morning. You sit at your table, sipping that fresh cup of coffee, and the sunlight is shining through the trees and reflecting off the window pane. It’s a storybook moment.

So inspired by nature’s beauty, you refill the birdfeeder, doing your part in a concrete world to preserve the little bit of nature we still have. You smile — you’re loving life.

Meanwhile, my son is so scared to go outside he cries about it. He has panic attacks at 10 years old. He puts on his long socks and shoes to run in his backyard. He can’t go out in bare feet or sandals this time of year.

That birdseed you just put in your yard could contain peanuts or peanut shells, and my son is anaphylactic to peanuts and allergic to tree nuts.

My son almost died at 3 years of age, and even after using his EpiPen, his reaction came back less than 10 minutes later in the ambulance, and he almost died again. We may not be so lucky next time. So it’s pretty serious.

I get it — you want to feed the birds. Who doesn’t? My kids would love to be able to walk into a store, pick any birdseed that looks good and set up shop in the backyard. But they can’t. They could die from it.

So I’m not asking you to stop feeding the birds or use soil for your flowers — because that, too, could contain peanuts. If you don’t have an allergic child or adult in your neighborhood, have at it.

But if you do have a person with severe nut allergies in your neighborhood, especially a child because they may not remember to take the precautions that an adult would, I’m asking you to have a conversation. Find out what their medical needs are — exactly. If your neighbor is deathly allergic to wheat, maybe you shouldn’t throw pieces of bread in the backyard. I’m just asking that you be sensitive to your neighbor and these health issues.

This is why birdseed that contains peanuts and nuts can be dangerous to my children with severe peanut and nut allergies:

It’s because the animals don’t often eat the food immediately, especially with the shells, but even the nuts themselves. They can bring the shells and nuts to their home yard and bury them for later (in my yard). They may eat a bit and drop the rest in our yard. There are a million different scenarios. How many of you have found a peanut shell in your yard or near it?

We see them on the steps of the school. We see them in parking lots. At church. They’re everywhere this time of year. I can’t control these public places. And, the reality is, I can’t control my own backyard for my son. He remembers what it was like to almost suffocate to death. That’s what happens. Your airway becomes restricted until you die. It’s pretty scary for an adult and overwhelming for a child.

So if you know you have an allergic child or adult in your vicinity, please consider having a conversation. Find out their comfort zone. The possibility of cross-contamination exists, so ask them if non-nut birdseed is OK. They will be so amazed and delighted that you cared enough to ask. I have heard that Cheerios, lard with cornmeal and other options are possible.

If you do, my son might be able to:

Run in the sprinkler in his bare feet or sandals.

Sit on the grass for a picnic.

Play kickball without worrying it will land on a nut or shell.

Roll around in the grass and scream at the sky.

Pick grass, hold it between his thumbs and blow it like a whistle.

Pick “flowers” for his mom without worrying if his throat will close up if he touches them.

Just be a carefree kid who for once doesn’t have to worry in his own yard.

I’m not really asking for a lot. I’m asking for a conversation. I’m asking for my son to have a few of the joys of summer.

Help me keep him healthy this summer. Help me ease his constant worry about death being at his door at any minute. Help me restore his faith in youth, summer and his neighbors and community.

Help me help him just be a kid.

Imagine someone Googling how to help you cope with your (or a loved one’s) diagnosis. Write the article you’d want them to find. If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: July 5, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home