Caleb’s Diagnosis- My Intro to Food Allergies

1/2007   My son was almost turning 1.  He had been suffering almost his whole short life with awful diarrhea, that left bloody sores on his bum~ I recognize now in hindsight, that this was due to food allergies, but I had no idea then- and our doctors never even suggested it- let alone showed any concern about this.  In desperation I wrote a letter to my to my Aunt Elana in NYC ~I am sharing that email, and her response:

“I believe Caleb has a dairy allergy. He is 10 mos. now, almost 11 mos, [1 in march] and so I know they aren’t supposed to have milk yet, but every time he gets skin contact with the following things [that I have tried on different occasions]: yogurt [Yo-Baby brand],  ice cream [face-planted himself into Paul’s ice-cream cone], some little pieces of american cheese; he has gotten red splotchy spots wherever there was contact. He liked the yogurt, and didn’t suffer any other allergic reactions from it [no diarrhea, or  constipation, hives or asthmatic reaction] just a splotchy rash that went away after I washed him . My Doctor was not very helpful, he said  that if he had his way “the whole dairy industry would be banned, cows  milk is for cows”.~ He did not offer any  advice other than not give him any milk,  which is fine I guess, but he isn’t going to nurse  forever and if I need to switch to formula or whole milk after he turns one I ‘d like to know what and how, should he be drinking soy milk? or should I just continue to try a little dairy introduction every couple of weeks/months to see how/if he reacts…. I have no food allergies, Paul said he had a dairy allergy when he was young, and I remember Mikey had an allergy when he was little too that he out-grew as well. [I am hoping that if he has an allergy that it is something minor that he will outgrow!] so that’s all I have for you! I hope you all had a nice holiday! I was sorry not to get a chance to see you but we will try next time you come for a visit! love, jenny”

Her Response was detailed, and MOST helpful to me. I hope it is to you too!~

Hi Jenny,

Well, I have a bit of information to relate to you so I hope you will be patient with me. I will try to keep to what I feel are the most important points in order to give you a good foundation in understanding allergies as they may pertain to you. Keep in mind, this is based on my personal research and experience – I am not a doctor – but I hope I can offer you something of value. As you likely already know, my son’s allergies are all the way on one end of the spectrum of allergies (his are about as severe as they get). Most people do not experience their allergies to this degree. Nonetheless, the information I am forwarding you can help you help your son, no matter what level or degree of allergy Caleb may develop (whether mild or severe).

1) Does my child have an allergy or allergies?

Based on what you’ve told me, Caleb may have allergies (this includes a potential to develop additional allergies in the future). The only way to know for absolute sure is to be tested (of course, an obvious allergic reaction can be a real clue).  Anyone can develop allergies (even when it is not in your family tree), however, if one or both parents have allergies present in their family trees the risk of a child developing allergies increases significantly. An important point is the specific allergy is NOT what is inherited (nor is the severity of the reaction inherited) – what is inherited is the ability to develop an allergy. Once the allergic potential is present exposure and chance determine what an individual will develop an allergy to, as well as the level of the reaction (which can change over time).
So, Dad may be allergic to peanuts, Uncle may be allergic to dogs,
Grandma may be allergic to penicillin – and baby can end up being fine with all of these, but can’t go near oranges.

2) “I believe Caleb has an allergy to milk”

As far as I’m concerned, this is the most important point of all – if you suspect an allergy then take it seriously. As his mother, you notice things about his physiology at an “animal” level – meaning it does not require your conscious attention. Your instinct is invaluable.  If Caleb has developed a reaction to simply touching milk that is something you need to take seriously. My recommendation, until Caleb has been tested and you are certain he is not allergic to cow’s milk – DON’T  give him any milk (except mother’s milk).
I must inform you – a mild reaction does not ensure that future
reactions will remain mild. It often works out that with each exposure the allergic reaction will be worse.

3) I spoke to my doctor, but didn’t get any real help.

No surprise here. Rick and I went through hell with our doctors. I won’t relate the details now (it would simply be too lengthy), but I will share with you what I learned. Even a great family practice doctor (or internist or pediatrician) simply will not be able to give you the help you need when it comes to allergies. As a matter of fact, most general allergists aren’t much help either. First of all – don’t take anything they say (or don’t say) to heart.
Then, you must find a Pediatric Allergist who specializes in Food Allergies. So many allergists are set up to give out allergy shots to kids with pollen or cat allergies. They simply don’t have the knowledge and experience you require. If you can’t find the right doctor in your area, I will be happy to give you our allergist’s information. Perhaps she can help you find someone in your area, or you could make a one-time trip to New York to evaluate Caleb (if necessary) and get a great education in what you need to do if it turns out Caleb does have allergies.
Some doctors will recommend a blood test (RAST test). This can offer some information, but in my opinion it is not adequate. What you really need to do (once you’ve found your specialist) is have skin testing done. Rafi was a baby when he had his first skin test. As a matter of fact, Rafi has skin testing done every year (at least once a year) to gauge what is happening with his allergies (we expect him to outgrow them eventually!!). I recommend you bring Benadryl Ointment with you (that way, if Caleb has a reaction the Benadryl Ointment will deal with it topically and bring him relief from any itch or discomfort once the test is completed).

4) What can I do to help prevent allergies from developing?

A lot! First of all, keep breast-feeding – breast milk offers a lot for the allergic child. It helps your baby’s immune system develop and stay in balance (allergies are caused by an out of balance immune system – the body makes a mistake and determines that a food or pollen, etc, is a danger and then over reacts in order to protect itself – this is what an allergic reaction is – unfortunately, sometimes this overreaction goes farther than teary eyes, sneezing or itchy hives, and results in an anaphylactic response that can be life threatening, but we can talk about that another time, if necessary).
When we found out about Rafi’s allergies I continued to breast feed him until he was 2 and a half (I had originally intended to breast feed for one year). Of course, you don’t do every meal on the breast. You reduce the amount over time. You can also express milk and use it in food prep in place of any other milk. The important thing is that you keep breast milk a part of his daily diet for as long as you can.
Next, go slow in food introduction. Only introduce one single food at a time – and not more than one each week or two (once you are actively introducing food). If you suspect a reaction – write it down, avoid the food and review it with your doctor. If you get no negative reaction, give the new food for 5 days in a row to be more certain that no allergy is present. Start with a small amount on the 1st day and slightly increase the amount each subsequent day (that way you give the body a chance to adapt or react).

Start with foods that are simple to digest. Avoid complex or high protein foods (these are most likely to cause a reaction – like milk, egg, etc). Rice (baby rice) is a good place to start. You can mix it with expressed breast milk or water.

Learn about the most common food allergens (milk/dairy, egg, soy, peanut, corn, wheat, shellfish, etc). Then learn what the names of the additives are so you don’t give it to him by accident in a prepared food.  Keep this in mind, by waiting until your child is older and his immune system is stronger and in better balance you CAN AVOID CREATING AN ALLERGY TO A FOOD ALL TOGETHER. However, once an allergy to a food is present it can be years and years (and years) before the body outgrows the allergy (in some cases, it is not outgrown).

I’ll give you an example. We knew Rafi was prone to developing food allergies so we decided to wait until after Rafi’s 5th birthday before we let him try peanuts (actually, I think we waited until after his 6th birthday). Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy in our country… Rafi falls in the highest risk category for allergic patients… and Rafi is NOT allergic to peanuts. AVOIDANCE IS THE NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL FOR ANY ALLERGIC INDIVIDUAL – not only in terms of avoiding a reaction, but also in terms of avoiding the development of an allergy and in terms of growing out of an existing allergy.

To sum it up:
* NO MILK (in any form) until he is tested
* Find a specialist and get tested (test for more than just milk, he may have allergies you don’t know about)
* Go slow with food introductions – and remember, only one at a time!
* Avoid introducing high protein or complex protein foods until you can review with a specialist (we always did a skin-test before introducing any of the higher risk foods to Rafi)
* Continue offering him breast milk (even if it is only once a day)
* Buy and keep liquid children’s Benadryl anti-histamine with you at all times (in case he has a reaction)
* Note that shampoo, soap, conditioner, lotions, fabric softener, etc often contain animal products
* Learn to be a label reader and learn the various terms used (ex – whey and casein are milk by-products)

Last of all, allergic reactions most often happen from accidental exposure – so be aware when you are preparing, serving and storing food.

If you would like – I can give you information that may help with his environmental allergies (to cat…), but I didn’t want to overwhelm you.  🙂 Let me know.  Much love to you Jenny. Let me know how things go…

Elana