How My Son’s Old Fear of Flying May Have Saved His Life Last Week
Amazing how things work out.
Back in 2014, H was going on his first* plane ride and we were worried because he’d been starting to show an aversion to noise, crowded places, enclosed spaces, and especially to noisy, crowded, enclosed spaces. We did everything we could to prepare him for the plane ride — you can read all about it here — but we also bought a bottle of Benadryl. I figured, if push comes to shove, I’d give him the Benadryl to make him drowsy and help him sleep on our red-eye flight.
But we didn’t give him the Benadryl, in the end.
(I should also say right here that it’s not recommended to use Benadryl for this purpose in children. Also: there’s a chance, when you give Benadryl, that a child might become even more active.)
It hasn’t been easy but H has risen to the challenge. He has progressed from crying for 2 out of the 4 hours it took to fly from Cebu to Singapore, to just almost crying on several subsequent flights within the Philippines, to merely asking for headphones on our recent 8-hour flights to Sydney and back. He’s also become quite fond of elevators and jeepneys, places that used to distress him, and he now tolerates the sound of vacuum cleaners. (Suspiciously, he has never been affected by that absolute bedlam that goes on in game arcades that honestly make my head ache, lol.)
In short, he’s doing quite well, thankfully — but that’s not what this is about.
Last week, as I was working on my laptop, I heard H suddenly coughing downstairs. At first, it was just endless coughing, unrelieved by the glass of water my parents had already given him by the time I arrived downstairs. Then his breathing grew harsh and he started wheezing. He’s asthmatic so we gave him Salbutamol. He still kept on coughing though — it was like, you know, when a particularly nasty bit of dust gets stuck in your throat — and then he started crying. For several seconds, I hugged him, rubbed his back, and repeatedly murmured “It’s all right” to try to tamp down his distress. Then I disengaged so I could look him in the eye…
…and saw that his eyes had swollen! In seconds, his left eye had practically closed, his right eye just a fraction smaller. We looked at his arms and legs and there were suddenly wheals where there had been none earlier.
And an allergy, moreover, that was already affecting his airway.
Now, you must understand that although H has had intermittent asthma, apart from that he has never shown more than mild allergic symptoms. Prior to last week, the worst skin symptom he’s ever had was a bit of redness around the mouth. He also wasn’t eating anything particularly dangerous before he started coughing — just wafers and a milk chocolate drink, both of which he’d had dozens of times before. (And I do mean dozens, not just once or twice, i.e. not just enough to be sensitized.)
Another thing you should know: Epipen isn’t available here in the Philippines. Neither is Jext or any other epinephrine auto-injector that could potentially save the life of someone having an anaphylactic reaction — which was what H’s symptoms were starting to look like.**
So, basically, we had no inkling H would ever need an Epipen and even if we had, it wasn’t available anyway.
Thank God for Benadryl.
Yep — the Benadryl we’d purchased a few years earlier as Plan B for H’s discomfort in planes came in quite handy as inadvertent Plan A for another, and altogether more critical, reason.
As you may know, Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an antihistamine, a type of medication used to treat allergies. We gave H the Benadryl and afterwards took him to the nearest hospital. By the time we got there, his breathing was markedly better. His pediatrician, who’d been about to leave for the day when we called her to tell her we were coming, waited up for him. In the end, we didn’t have to go to the ER and H’s symptoms improved to the extent that it was decided he didn’t have to have a shot of epinephrine.
Would things have gone differently if we hadn’t had Benadryl in the house? Would his breathing have improved…or would it have grown worse? I don’t know. I don’t like to think about it.
I’m just glad the Benadryl was there.
* He’d been on a plane before but was less than a year old at the time.
** You can view the clinical criteria for diagnosing anaphylaxis here.
Since the incident last week, friends outside the Philippines have kindly volunteered to procure Epipen for us, for which we are beyond grateful. People here who are in danger of anaphylaxis but can’t find a way to buy Epipen abroad resort to bringing around a syringe and an ampule of epinephrine. That does the trick but the advantage of epinephrine auto-injectors is that it can easily be administered by anyone, even those without medical training.