Food Allergy Awareness Week wrapped up today, and this year I had more reasons to pay attention than ever before.
I’ve mentioned before that Kay appears to be allergic to dairy. Ever since she started eating solid foods, we noticed her cheeks and chin would get bright red and rashy whenever she ate dairy. Cow dairy was worse than goat, but occasionally she’d react to goat cheese too. Hubs has some food allergies to dairy and to wheat, so it made sense that Kay might have some food allergies too. But I noticed there were times when she hadn’t eaten any dairy and she still broke out into a rash. We couldn’t pinpoint the cause, so I asked for a referral to an allergist.
Her initial appointment was supposed to be in June, but I got on the cancellation list and managed to get a new appointment time a couple of weeks ago. We met with the the doctor who took a brief family history and asked about all the symptoms we’d noticed. Then Kay had her scratch test.
At first she seemed to think it was funny. The nurse drew orange dots (reference points) on her forearm and put drops of oil containing individual allergens next to each dot. The test included two controls – a negative control with nothing in the oil (this lets the doctor see what the scratch looks like without any allergen), and a positive control with histamine which makes everyone react. She was very cooperative and smiley up until the point the nurse used the plastic tool to prick her skin at each site. Then she howled!
I guess they’re used to that as they quickly turned on a little dancing musical bear that soon distracted Kay from her arm. We waited about 10 minutes, and then the doctor came in to read the test. Turns out she reacted to alder trees, grass, dust mites, dairy, beef, eggs, corn, wheat, and shrimp. What? I had wondered about the shrimp, but I’d never noticed any kind of reaction to eggs or corn or beef. (Apparently an allergy to dairy commonly goes along with an allergy to beef.)
The doc told us that in his 30 years of practice he rarely ever sees children this young react to shrimp. Yikes! He was emphatic – no shrimp, crab, or lobster for Kay. The doc said she could continue to eat the other foods as long as she didn’t show a reaction, but we should keep a close eye on them and cut them out if she reacts. He suggested we bring her back for another test in two years when her system has developed further.
When I was a kid, I don’t remember any of my friends having allergies. A lot has changed since then! We all know that nuts are commonly banned in many schools, and food allergies seem to be on the rise everywhere. There are a lot of theories for why this is happening, but the most common hypothesis is that we’re simply too clean. Kids who grow up in big families or on farms tend to show less allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases in general.
There’s mounting evidence that our immune systems rely on exposure to gastrointestinal bacteria, endotoxins, and parasites to work well. Antibiotic use in the first year of life has been linked to higher rates of asthma, as has the use of antibacterial cleansers and C-section births (because the baby is not exposed to normal vaginal flora during delivery). Incidentally, Kay was born naturally, never needed antibiotics, and we use old-fashioned soap and water to get clean. Obviously it’s a complex interaction including genetic, prenatal, and environmental influences.
I’m hoping Kay grows out of some or all of these allergies, but in the meantime we’ll continue avoiding dairy and leave the shellfish off the menu. Sorry sweetheart, no more prawn tempura or crab cakes.
Does your child have food allergies? Did he or she outgrow any of them?