Let me start by saying that food allergies were never on my radar. So, our food allergy story starts with a handful of "signs" that I simply didn't realize were signs. I beat myself up about this for a long while, but the truth is, it's hard to find something when you're not looking.
When my daughter Avery was a baby, she ate everything - and I mean everything. When my oldest son Cade came along, it was a much different story. He was, let's say, particular. While this was a challenge, he actually had a very uneventful first year of trying new foods... until I introduced scrambled eggs. When I put eggs in front of him for the first time, my picky boy did just that, he "picked." So, I got creative the next time I served them and added something to the mix that I knew he loved - cheese. Smothered eggs were a different story, and just as I suspected, they were gone as soon as they hit the plate. I relished in my success, got him in the car to head to a friend's house and watched as he proceeded to throw up all over himself. Car sickness or tummy bug? Those were the only two thoughts that came to my mind as I turned the car around and drove home. My toddler refused to touch an egg - smothered in cheese or not - ever again.
Our next sign got my attention. We were out of town visiting family when Cade broke out in a rash all over his little body. I wondererd if it was the grass outside, some type of environmental allergy? Was he getting sick? We gave him Benadryl and decided to give it some time... that is until he woke up the next morning absolutely covered from head to toe in hives. At this point, my husband Brian and I rushed him to a pediatric urgent care where they quickly gave him a shot of ephinephrine. The doctor said that she could not be certain of what was causing his hives, but if it was an allergic reaction to something he ingested, his skin would clear up immediately. In a matter of seconds following the shot going in, the rash got fainter and his color was back. He had most likely eaten something.
We came home from that trip uncertain of what he could have possibly reacted to, but we didn't know where to begin to investigate. The final piece of the puzzle clicked when I gave him his first taste of peanut butter shortly thereafter. We'd cautiously held off on peanut butter, but had a level of comfort finally introducing it since his sister did so well with it at his age. Cade's first (and last) taste of peanut butter was a less than 1/8 of a teaspoon lick off of an apple. At first, he looked like he liked it, but when he went in for a second lick, he immediately started crying. Then he quickly became inconsolable. As his face and neck started to break out in hives, I got on the phone with my pediatrician who said that it sounded like he was having an allergic reaction and to give him Benadryl and watch him carefully. When he started vomiting, we scooped him up and rushed him to the ER. No question, we had a peanut allergy on our hands.
After this incident, I started reading - A LOT. And, the puzzle pieces suddenly started coming together. The throwing up after eating eggs and refusing to touch them again. The perpetual rash on his face that never seemed to clear up, no matter what ointment or creme I use to treat it. Could that also be food-related? A battery of allergy tests later showed that he was indeed allergic to peanuts, eggs and also a number of tree nuts. And, after removing from Cade's diet baked egg (in sweet treats, pasta, breads, etc.) that he had been eating for months, the rash on his face cleared up completely.
Needless to say, when I got pregnant with my second son, Luke, I was borderline fanatical when it came to my own eating. I refused to touch a nut of any kind during my pregnancy and avoided eggs as much as possible. I had no idea if it would help safeguard my new baby, but it seemed like it was worth a shot in my mind (ironically, studies showing just the opposite about a mother's prenatal diet has since come out).
When Luke was born, a few "signs" surfaced with him, also, but they were even more subtle than those that occurred with Cade. First, he was incredibly fussy in the hospital. My other two children were so calm and peaceful those first few days, but Luke seemed distressed. I was breastfeeding him, but as with my others, nurses supplemented with a few bottles of formula while I waited for my milk to come in. In retrospect, this was an issue right from the start. The second thing that I took notice of immediately was Luke's skin. He was plagued with eczema, on an even larger scale than Cade had been as a baby.
Yet, even with these subtle signs, Luke's first allergic reaction still caught us off guard. It occurred the first time I gave him formula outside of what he'd had in the hospital. After nursing him exclusively for four months, I decided to try and see how he would take to a bottle. With less than an ounce of the formula in him, Luke began to have the exact same type of reaction that we'd witnessed with Cade; he started crying inconsolably and vomiting profusely. As we rushed to the hospital in one of the most eerily reminiscent moments of my life, Brian and I agreed that this baby was allergic to milk.
Little did we know, we were looking at the same exact allergies with Luke as with Cade - eggs, peanuts, and a number of tree nuts, with the addition of milk and wheat. Fortunately, Luke outgrew his wheat allergy before he turned one, but all of the others stayed put.
Our Story From Here...
We've had scares, both major and minor (including having to use the epi-pen), but we also have hope. My pediatrician once told me that when she first started medical school, she wasn't very sure that the future was bright for kids with food allergies. But, now? She believes my boys' lives will be completely different in ten years. THAT'S something I hang on to... every day.
I just hope that encourages you, too!