Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Discovering Food Allergies

I've mentioned a few times that Lil' Bit has food allergies. He has quite a few actually. Somehow we've managed to avoid the big ones like wheat, dairy, and soy. He does, however, have some life threatening allergies. At 14 months old, we discovered that LB was anaphylactic to all nuts.

I will never forget his first allergic reaction. I was at the mall with my grandmother and LB. We were having lunch in the food court. I gave LB a tiny bit of a chocolate chip cookie. My grandmother noticed the reaction first. He was pulling at his sweater and rubbing his chest. I pulled the sweater away from his skin and saw that he was covered in hives. I called a friend who is a nurse. She worked a few blocks away from where we were, so we rushed over to her. She gave him Benadryl which took care of the reaction, but we were left with many questions.

We spent the next few months at different doctors' offices trying to determine exactly what it was that caused LB to have a reaction. He was so young that none of the doctors felt the various test results were accurate (one test indicated a positive result to every single thing they tested for). It wasn't until we did a food challenge at the allergist's office that we knew just how serious his allergy was. In a food challenge, a person is giving a minute amount of the food in question. After waiting a prescribed amount of time, the person is checked for a reaction. If there is none, he/she is giving a slightly larger amount of the food and the test continues. If there is a reaction, the test is over. We used peanut butter for LB's test. The first amount was smaller than a grain of rice. I remember quite vividly the nurse saying that she knew the amount seemed so small and it probably seemed silly to start with such a tiny amount, but that was how it was done. She gave LB the peanut butter. We had trouble getting him to take it. He spit half of it out. The nurse left the room saying she'd be back in a few minutes to check on him. Within 30 seconds my baby was choking, vomiting, had trouble breathing, and his entire head turned purple. I opened the door and screamed for someone to help him. I felt completely helpless. An amount of peanut butter smaller than a grain of rice had caused my son to go into anaphylaxis. I was so grateful that we had chosen to go ahead with the food challenge. I can't even think about what might have happened if he had had peanut butter at home or if the cookie he tasted at the mall was made with peanut butter (our best guess is that the chocolate chip cookie was on a tray where peanut butter cookies had once been).

Since that day four and a half years ago, we've discovered that LB has multiple other food allergies. Thankfully none of them have caused an anaphylactic reaction. A few months after the nut allergy diagnosis, LB was at home eating a soft pretzel. I had given him a bit of mustard to dip it in. He was basically just sucking on the mustard. He loved it. As I wiped his face, I saw that all around his mouth was bright red. Tests later confirmed that he was indeed allergic to mustard. We've since dicovered allergies to fish, shellfish, citrus, strawberries, watermelon, raw carrots and mangoes (we learned the hard way that mangoes are part of the cashew family). Some of these allergies were discovered at home and others through annual testing at the allergist's office. We're regulars there now. I'm happy to report that LB has outgrown the strawberry allergy. That has opened up a whole new cereal bar and jelly world to us! Unfortunately, the severity of his nut allergy has increased over time. It is extremely unlikely that he will ever outgrow it.

Food allergies have changed our daily life. I think about things I never expected to. It has changed where we eat, how we shop, where he will attend school, and how we travel among other things. Initially it was overwhelming. The first time I had to go grocery shopping and read every single label took me hours. The start of every new experiece (school, t-ball, music class, etc.) becomes a lesson on how to keep my child safe. I've learned a lot since that day at the mall. Over the next few weeks I plan on sharing some of our experiences dealing with food allergies. The more people understand about food allergies, the better chance a child has of avoiding a reaction and remaining safe.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to a lot in this post, my son used to be allergic to everything--corn, wheat, soy, green beans, oats, chicken, turkey--but thankfully we've not had to deal with anaphylaxis. (He's outgrown some but it's still a huge issue.) I totally agree with you about starting each new experience and I call it being "allergy mom" when I have to deal with holidays, celebrations, new schools and friends etc. Once, my son was asked to leave preschool before the Valentines Day party so the teacher didn't have to deal with his issues. Nice!

    I look forward to reading future posts in this series. :-)