When becoming a parent, I knew some things would never be the same. Things like never being able to sleep a solid block of hours uninterrupted, that crayon would inevitably go on walls, that the day will come when you have poo explosions or get vomited on and never being able to keep anything white ever again. However, I never expected that my child would have food allergies.
My husband and I have no food or skin allergies so it was a huge shock to us when Spencer tested positive to being allergic to eggs, nuts, fish and peas. It was a huge adjustment for us in our cooking and eating habits, however it quickly became our new normal.
I would say Spencer had eczema since birth. His skin as a baby was always quite red, itchy and always dry. Since he was born in winter, we always thought it was the weather, however we noticed really dry patches starting to form and certain parts of his skin started to feel like crocodile skin. The redness and itching was in the typical eczema areas of the folds like in the inner elbows, cheeks, hands and behind the knees. Both our paediatric allergist and paediatrician explained to us that there is a high correlation between children with eczema and egg allergies.
At around 5 months we started Spencer on some solids. We started with the typical purées like carrots, sweet potatoes, apple, pumpkin and pear. All was going well so at 8 months we started the introduction of eggs. We hard boiled an egg, separated the yolk from the white and smudged a tiny amount of egg yolk around his lips. Great – No reaction! We then proceeded to give Spencer a quarter of an egg yolk once a week for three weeks and still there was no reactions. By the time Spencer was 9 months, he was eating half an egg yolk twice a week but by the time he was 10 months old, he started to show signs of egg allergies. We thought Spencer surely wasn’t allergic to eggs because he had yolk on at least 7 occasions by this point and never showed any signs of food allergies.
The very first signs of Spencer’s egg allergies was increased eczema, then redness, then came itching and then vomiting. I thought we had to keep persisting with the eggs, as I heard when you stop giving them egg, that they would surely become allergic to them. I persisted with half an egg yolk twice a week because I didn’t want to give up the excellent source of protein as he was not showing much interest to meats. This was silly on after thought as he was getting everything he needed from breastmilk anyway. I also truly believed that since he had the yolk on so many occasions already, that he would have been allergic much earlier and that it was just the eczema flaring up. However, the more I persisted with giving egg to Spencer, his reactions were showing faster and stronger each time. We decided to book into an allergist which would conduct a prick test in a safe environment to test for his suspected food allergies. We had stopped giving Spencer anything that contained eggs or even traces of eggs until this appointment.
We continued our solids journey and from that point we had discovered more allergies. This was to fish, peas and nuts. Each food presented with different symptoms and often the allergies did not present themselves until they were consumed on more than three occasions. We were starting to get really confused and wondered why he was reacting to so many foods. The symptoms we had for Spencer are below but please note that children have other symptoms beyond these and that the symptoms and severity of their reactions are different for all children.
- Eggs – itching, redness, eczema flares up and vomiting.
- Fish – redness and itching.
- Peas – raised hives all over the body, swelling of the lips, itching and redness.
- Nuts – redness and itching
I was honestly in disbelief that Spencer could possible be allergic to all these foods. Like who would be allergic to peas? I called the paediatric allergist office requesting an earlier appointment as we were struggling with foods to be able to give Spencer with his limited teeth (he had two until he was 12 months old) and to get our heads around this whole situation since we did not have allergies ourselves. We were placed on a cancellation list but a month later, I had rung again explaining the severity of his allergies and that we were really needing some help. Spencer was itching and scratching to the point he was bleeding and on antibiotics for continuously breaking the skin on his body and no one year old understands not to scratch! Fortunately a fortnight later we got a call for a cancellation appointment – oh the relief and tears filled our eyes!
Our paediatric allergist had explained that food allergies were more common than we knew and that egg allergies were very common amongst children who had eczema. Other top allergies aside from egg were fish, soy, wheat, milk (diary), peanuts (nuts), sesame, tree nuts and shellfish. There were allergies he said children and adults had that we would never think of like to rockmelon.
We were recommended to conduct a prick test where they can test up to 10 suspected allergies on the leg. Before our appointment, hubby and I had already agreed that although we thought it may be cruel to do a prick test, we needed to find out and couldn’t keep going with how we were with the uncertainty of whether Spencer may or may not be allergic to a certain food. We agreed it was in his best interest to know, so that in the future we don’t across any severe food allergy symptoms from traces of foods which could ultimately cause a reaction big enough to stop him breathing. It also meant we would have knowledge to adequately manage these allergies. We were recommended to test the foods we suspected and also both ground and tree nuts. The prick test took less than 3 minutes and Spencer didn’t even cry. We were told to wait for 20 minutes and then the results would be in. The allergist measured the sizes of the the test areas and it was confirmed he was allergic to peanuts, almonds, walnuts, fish, peas and eggs. I was most shocked about the peas because i didn’t even think people could be allergic to peas! Well, he sure is allergic to peas and very allergic to them apparently. Peas topped our positive list and the swelling was much larger than the positive egg and nut spots.
We were advised that the prick test is not entirely accurate for a child who just turned one however it was fairly reliable. There is also a difference to a child testing positive to nuts who has consumed that particular nut and who hasn’t. For instance, Spencer had consumed peanut butter prior to testing and tested positive to being allergic to peanuts. However, Spencer also tested positive to walnuts and almonds but has never consumed them so it may not be accurate. Our allergist also mentioned it is always good to introduce a new food over three days as food allergies do not always present themselves on the first consumption.
Honestly, the way we felt was just disappointment. I kept blaming myself.
“Was it because I ate too little or too much of those foods during pregnancy? Did i cause this? How were we going to manage this? What can he eat with so many allergies? I am now going to be ‘that’ parent at birthday parties. I am going to be ‘that’ mum who has to tell their child that they cannot have a cupcake. I am going to be ‘that’ mum in the supermarket aisle reading every single word in the ingredients list. Gone were the days of eating outside because no one is going to guarantee that their restaurant/cafe food doesn’t contain traces of nuts or eggs”.
Below are photos of Spencer and his reactions. Although I have these photos as a reference to his allergies and having seen them many times before, looking at them still break my heart.
We then proceeded to see a paediatric dietician to provide us with some nutritional information and recipes which we could cook to ensure Spencer was getting enough nutrients with so many allergies and limited teeth. We now ensure Spencer has tofu and spinach frequently for the protein for instance. Egg also has other hidden names such as lysozyme, ovomucin, ovovitellin, simplesse (etc) which is present in foods you wouldn’t suspect such as parmesan cheese, ovaltine drink, batter, pasta, ice-cream, pastry items, salad dressings and even some vaccines. We also avoid any food labels which state that the product “May contain [allergen]”, “Produced in a facility that also produces products containing [allergen]” or “Made on equipment that is also processed [allergen]”.
Initially adjusting to these allergies took a while but after a month or two, we saw significant improvements in Spencer’s skin. Checking out with the groceries started to become faster as well, as we would just keep picking up the products which we had scanned the ingredients list previously for allergens and which worked for us. We started to learn about egg replacers but found that choosing to cook recipes and food without egg was easier than using egg replacers. It sure tasted better too! Remembering to tell schools, family and friends about his allergies before outings became easier and everyone has been very accomodating. Spencer is too young for an epipen currently but we always carry Zyrtec in our baby bag and at home with their expiry dates set in our calendar.
We have another follow up appointment a year after our first one where Spencer will be tested again for suspected and existing allergies. Last month, for the first time in 11 months, we did try a little bit of egg with Spencer again in a baked cupcake but unfortunately he still showed signs of redness and itching last month. We also have two new suspected allergies on our list which are beans and chickpeas. However, the good news is, we think Spencer has overcome his allergies to fish and peanuts. We have been told that children do often grow out of food allergies but that unfortunately nut allergies are hardly grown out of. Our next appointment, Spencer will go through a ‘challenge’ to test whether he really has outgrown the peanut and fish allergy.
Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions and I will get back to you soon!