ALLERGY BABY: The Journey To Diagnosis
Did you know that the UK has one of the highest rates for childhood allergies in the developed world? And that over the last 30 years the amount of children living with allergies has more than trebled.
Yet despite this colossal increase and the ever so prevalent array of ‘free from’ foods in the supermarket, the journey to getting your child diagnosed can be a torturous one.
My youngest suffers from food allergies, and when I say ‘allergies’ what I really mean is multiple ‘can’t eat anywhere’ amount of food allergies. We’re talking dairy, egg, tomato, peanut, coconut, cashew nut and Brazil nut (yes I know, Brazil nut is totally random but it’s in there).
There was a terrible moment when we thought he might also be allergic to soya but thankfully, whether he was or wasn’t, he isn’t now. Because seriously do you know how many foods have soya in? I didn’t until I started on this journey but let me tell you it’s in everything.
We didn’t always know. It started with a little bit of eczema on his forehead at two months old (around the same time I introduced a nightly bottle of formula but that’s foresight for you) and gradually increased to the point where my baby’s entire body was covered in dry bleeding scabs. Even his tiny baby ear holes had started to close over with scabs. The very thought of it makes me want to weep for him.
And then of course there was the vomiting; volcanic explosions of precious breast milk, following every single feed. My naturally greedy baby, who would happily feed all day, suddenly couldn’t keep anything down.
I went to the doctor, asked about cutting out dairy and was greeted with a condescending lecture and a prescription for paraffin packed emollients and Junior Gaviscon.
Desperate to sooth my baby, I obediently followed the doctor’s orders, liberally applying the flammable cream up to 6 times a day to no avail. His skin wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse! While the Gaviscon, had no effect what so ever. Under weight, in obvious discomfort and with lumpy, swollen glands appearing all over his neck, my postnatal anxiety went in to over drive.
On the advice of a friend whose two small children suffer from food allergies (and who also happens to be a top Harley Street Dietitian) I went back to the doctor, insisting that, contrary to his previous diagnosis, my son is in fact having an allergic reaction to dairy. Begrudgingly (and if I am honest, more to prove me wrong than anything else) we are referred to a pediatric dietician via one very degrading letter.
As we waited for my son’s appointment I continued to follow my friend’s advice, removing all dairy, soy and egg from my diet for a minimum of 6 weeks to ensure my breast milk was completely free from any of the suspected allergens.
Though challenging, those 6 weeks proved fruitful, with the post feed vomiting ceasing almost immediately. And while my son’s skin took a little longer to reap results, what was one of the most sever cases of eczema I had ever seen, gradually began to fade away, replaced instead with beautifully smooth, baby soft skin.
When our appointment with the dietitian finally arrived my food allergy suspicions were confirmed. The next 3 months were spent tirelessly removing and reintroducing foods from my diet to find out exactly what my baby was allergic to, resulting in numerous eczema outbreaks brakes and a dependency on steroid cream.
The break through finally came after his first birthday, when he was old enough for an allergen skin prick test. Not the nicest procedure for a baby (he had to endure 20 needles in each arm) but it allowed us to finally pin point (no pun intended) exactly what he was allergic to.
As we left the hospital we were prescribed a bottle of Cetirizine (preferred over the more widely known Priton, as it doesn’t make them sleepy), 4 epi pens (two to have with him at all times and two to keep at nursery), given a step by step lesson on what to do in the case of an anaphylactic shock and told to book in for another pin prick test in a years time, where he will be reassessed.
Which brings us to now, exactly 2 years on from that very first eczema outbreak. It’s been a long and arduous journey to diagnosis but now under the carefully watch of the Kingston Hospital Pediatrics Allergy Unit, I finally feel like we have the support we need to manage my sons multiple allergies.
Yes we may have to take two epi pen’s and a packed lunch where ever we may go but my allergy baby (or should I say toddler) also has one of the healthiest diet I know, favouring wholegrains and vegetables over sweet or processed foods.
Its effect on our family has also been unprecedented. Matching our diets to his (both to prevent contamination and to stop him feeling left out), we’ve developed a stronger knowledge of nutrition and the effects it can have on our bodies. It has forced us to go back to basics and shown us that wholesome food in its most natural form really is best.
Through the careful management of my son’s diet, we have also managed to ditch the steroid creams, only applying Childs Farm Baby Moisturiser after the bath or during the occasional outbreak (its effect on eczema really is amazing).
If you feel like your child could be suffering from an allergy and are struggling to be heard, don’t give up hope. Look at their diet, look at your diet and remember that it takes at least 6 weeks to see results (if any) from any food elimination diet. Look at the ingredients in their baby bath, their moisturiser, even their nappy cream. Don’t be afraid to go back to your doctor, or get a second opinion if needed. It was only through trusting my gut that and not being afraid to stand up for my beliefs that my son finally receive the help he needed.