Both of my sweet, sweet boys struggle with severe food allergies. Our food allergy journey began on a warm September morning. Atticus, only 6 weeks old, was lying in his swing and I was sitting at the kitchen table with his big brother, Christian (17 months old,) and his occupational therapist, Beth.
First, a bit of background about Christian’s therapy. We began introducing solid foods around 9 months and quickly began to realize that he would gag on everything and many times throw up everything. Being a first time mom, I assumed that his behavior was fairly normal and that he just wasn’t ready. We went back to stage 2 baby food (100% pureed) because even the stage 3 food that had small bits of pasta or carrots would cause him to gag. When we reached his first birthday, my sister-in-law, a developmental therapist, watched him eat and suggested that we contact a therapist. Beth soon arrived and began working with him on a weekly basis, mostly with food play. We’d try to introduce new textures and she worked hard to move his “gag reflex” further back on his tongue.
Flash back to that morning at the kitchen table: Beth suggested we try a scrambled egg during one of his sessions. She wanted to see how he’d tolerate the texture. I made the egg and she broke up pieces on his tray. He loved to dip everything…and I mean EVERYTHING into ketchup (something that hasn’t changed). This was no different. He began dipping the pieces of egg in ketchup and putting them in his mouth. He spit many pieces out because he didn’t care for the texture. So we aren’t entirely sure that he ingested much, if any. He was probably working with the egg for 10 minutes when I went to the sink to get him a wet paper towel to wipe off the ketchup that was now all over his face, hands, arms and clothes. When I went back around the corner I noticed that his face seemed puffy and he had large patches of red-like hives on his face. I had only been gone a matter of seconds. I pointed it out to Beth and she had the same look of concern that I did. Since he was covered in ketchup, I quickly cleaned his face and hands to be sure that what we were seeing wasn’t just large amounts of ketchup. We quickly realized that something was wrong. His face was continuing to puff up and the hives were all over his hands and around his mouth. Clearly where he came in contact with the egg. Not knowing much about food allergies, I picked up the phone an rang our pediatrician. The nurse told me to give him Benadryl and watch him for the next two hours.
Beth was sweet enough to run to a near by pharmacy for Children’s Benadryl — something I didn’t have on hand. Beth stayed with me until we were sure that he wasn’t going to take a turn for the worse. Although his reaction wasn’t anaphylactic, it was my first experience with food allergies and I was terrified! I was so thankful that I had waited to experiment with eggs until Beth was present. There had been many mornings where I thought about making him an egg. What would have happened had I been there alone with him and a newborn?? Not to mention that I was still under strong lifting restrictions due to my cesarean delivery. I continued to watch him for the next two hours and then put him down for a nap. That afternoon I called and scheduled an appointment to see a pediatric allergist.
You can read more about our first visit with the allergist and Atticus’ diagnosis here.
Atticus’ journey with food allergies began very early. But before we get into that, I must add that during his big brother’s appointment with the allergist I asked what the likelihood of my youngest developing food allergies would be. He explained that it wasn’t out of the question, but highly unlikely and in many cases rare. That said, I hadn’t even begun to consider the possibility that he, too, could have one food allergy. Let alone multiple.
It was only 6 weeks following our first appointment with the allergist and his encouraging assurance that my youngest’s food allergy story began. I was very determined to breastfeed my little men for as long as possible. It wasn’t long before I realized that following each meal, Atticus was incredibly fussy and unsettled. I love all things dairy: cheese, ice cream, milk, etc. I knew that some babies couldn’t tolerate large quantities of dairy, therefore, I cut way back on my dairy intake just weeks home from the hospital.
By Thanksgiving, Atticus was 3 months old and still wanting to nurse every 3 hours around the clock and had eczema that covered most of his body and was beginning to creep down his face. As a mom, I began to feel like something had to be wrong, but wasn’t sure what it could be. My husband and I determined that due to his inability to stretch out his feedings over night he must not be getting enough food. Encouraged by my pediatrician, I decided to supplement his feedings with formula at night. We began with regular formula (dairy based). During his first feeding of formula we quickly began to notice that as the formula would run around the bottle and down his chin, every part of his face that the formula touched was puffy and swollen. We immediately stopped the feeding and called the pediatrician. He came to the same conclusion that we had: He must have a dairy allergy. (The swelling was identical to what I witnessed with his older brother’s reaction.) He instructed us to continue to watch him for worsening symptoms for the next 2-3 hours, and that I remove ALL diary from my diet if I wanted to continue to nurse. I was told that this would give him the best chance to out grow the allergy and help with his discomfort. His symptoms didn’t worsen but he was covered in hives the following day. Poor guy. 🙁
I immediately researched everything on a dairy allergy so that I could 100% eliminate dairy from my diet. It was surprisingly more difficult than I had expected as the list that I had to read for on food labels was quite extensive. Nonetheless, I removed all dairy from my diet and within weeks I began to notice a difference in his behavior and the eczema got significantly better (although it wasn’t gone). Four weeks later, Christmas Eve, my wonderful husband wanted to give me an early Christmas gift by taking a feeding in the middle of the night so I could sleep longer. I didn’t have anything stored in the fridge, but the pediatrician said that we could try soy formula should we want to supplement at night. When the midnight feeding rolled around, the Hubster gave him 4 ounces of formula and he took all of it. Not 20 minutes passed following the feeding and the Hubster ran in to get me out of bed. Atticus wouldn’t stop vomiting. He vomited for 30 straight minutes and then cashed out. I quickly got online and realized that this could also be a food allergy symptom. We were convinced of it when he was covered head to toe in hives the following day. So let’s add a soy allergy to the list. The very next day (Christmas day), I began reading all food labels for soy, too.
I continued with my elimination diet and his eczema and fussiness continued to improve. Another four weeks passed and he was significantly better but we still couldn’t rid his body of the eczema. So I mentioned it to our pediatrician and he suggested that I eliminate wheat and eggs as those are the other common allergens found in children. So let’s take a moment to look at the items I was removing from my diet: dairy, soy, wheat, egg. Wheat was by far the most difficult to remove as it is in everything AND I am a huge carb girl! I love my pasta, crackers, rolls, etc. With each item that I took out of my diet, my sweet boy slowly began to heal and exhibited less and less symptoms. He still wasn’t symptom free which made me feel like we were still missing something, but it was a significant improvement. Plus, I was losing all sorts of weight from the diet alone!! WOOHOO!
The Day That Changed Everything…
We finally had an appointment for Atticus to see the pediatric allergist. It was scheduled for mid-April. This date couldn’t come soon enough. I just wanted answers. I wanted to know what we were battling. What I truly needed to eliminate and what solids I could start to introduce, aside from the fruits and vegetables we were already giving him. Of course, we had to remain reaction free for 4-6 weeks leading up to the appointment. Once the body has an allergic reaction and releases all of its histamine, the histamine levels won’t return to normal for this amount of time. Therefore, the testing won’t be accurate and in many cases the child won’t test positive at all. Why am I telling you all of this? This leads us to 2 weeks prior to our scheduled appointment. It’s early April and I had just finished teaching piano lessons. My mom had the kids upstairs. I went up to relieve my mom from her babysitting responsibilities and nurse Atticus. My husband was on his way home from the airport. My Atticus nursed great and I was helping the boys down the stairs when I noticed that he seemed to have red splotches on his face. Both of my boys welt easily so I thought that perhaps he bumped his face. My mom began to notice the splotches, too and when we got to the bottom of the stairs it seemed to be getting worse. We began to wrack our brains to think about what he could have possibly come in contact with — nothing!
My mom had to leave to get to a meeting but my husband had texted that he was on his way home. I put Atticus in his highchair and was getting ready to make dinner. When I turned back around his whole face was swollen and I could barely make out his eyes. I immediately took off his shirt and he had hives creeping down his body. I frantically called a pharmacist friend who gave me the correct dose of Benadryl that I could give to him. I was in the process of administering the Benadryl when he began to turn blue, cough and gasp for air. I immediately called 911 and they arrived in minutes. By the time they arrived my mom came back and I must have gotten enough Benadryl into him because his swelling was going down.
I didn’t have time to give my husband a call during all of the chaos. So when he arrived to a fire truck and ambulance parked in front of our house he ran in the front door not knowing what he’d find. He was relieved to find that everyone was alive and doing okay. We headed to the hospital and by this point the swelling had significantly gone down, but he had hives all over his neck, torso and back. We were told to continue to give Benadryl around the clock for the next 24 hours and we started a week’s worth of oral steroids. We were unable to get accurate testing when the time came for his appointment with the allergist but he did still test positive to dairy and soy. We waited the allotted 4-6 weeks following his reaction and finally made it to the allergist for more conclusive testing. When he surprised us by testing positive to peanuts, it dawned on me that I had been eating peanut butter for lunch on that fateful day. I must have still had some on my clothing or skin.
You can read more about our visit with the allergist and Atticus’ diagnosis here.