WHAT EVERY PARENT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT FOOD ALLERGIES
Because I didn't know.
Partly because I naively believed that my child would never develop a food allergy. Neither myself nor my partner have food allergies, and it certainly doesn't run in the immediate or distant family on either side.
(To jump to the details on the allergy testing, or to find out what I learned throughout the experience, feel free to scroll down)
I thought we were doing well following the current guidelines that recommend introducing common allergens to babies at an early age, rather than waiting. So at 4 months I gave my daughter just a tiny bit of peanut butter and held my breath. Nothing happened after a few hours, so I gave her more, and when no reaction came I breathed a sigh of relief. That was the big scary allergen, and because she passed the test I thought, really, we were good to go.
We noticed the first food reaction at 7 months when we gave her avocado for the first time. Within a few hours she developed massive hives on her legs - I mean massive. We rushed her to our doctor, worried about anaphylaxis (but not really understanding what that is - more to come on that below), only to arrive and find that the hives had disappeared (so typical, there's nothing like looking like a neurotic parent than rushing to the doctor for no apparent reason).
month later we did scrambled eggs for the first time. Immediately she began scratching at her face, neck, and arms. There were no hives, so I chalked it up to being messy with self-feeding causing skin irritation. We became alarmed though when a few hours later she threw up all over the kitchen floor.
We didn't know that vomiting could be a sign of an allergy, but surprise, it is! It wasn't until her 9 month well baby checkup that I brought the reaction to eggs up to our doctor, and we were given a referral to an allergy clinic for testing and told to avoid eggs at all costs. Now THAT was alarming.
Fast forward three weeks (we were incredibly lucky to get in so soon) and the little pumpkin was getting allergy tested.
he allergy testing itself was actually really painless and quick.
First, the doctor asked how recently she had been exposed to the allergens in question. If exposure has been within 6 weeks it is possible that the allergy testing could give a false negative, so we were cautioned that any negative result would therefore have to be taken with a grain of salt until further testing could be done.
he doctor then marked her arm with the test controls ("+" for histamine and "-" for saline) and the allergens (in this case, "E" for egg and "A" for avocado). She then put a drop of extract of each beside the markings and made a gentle scratch in the skin.
hen we waited.
Within 5 minutes there was clearly a reaction to the egg extract.
I knew before going back in that we were definitely facing an egg allergy. When the doctor explained that we would have to keep an epi-pen with us at all times, my heart dropped. It's hard to hear that your baby may face a life-threatening situation if exposed to something that I generally take for granted in my diet. Just think about all the foods made with eggs and it seems quite daunting to try and avoid it completely forever.
But here's what I learned: it likely won't be forever.
The good news is 90% of kids will outgrow an egg allergy by the time they reach 7-years-old.
90% of kids will also outgrow a milk allergy by 7-years-old. The prognosis for peanuts and tree nuts is less positive though: 20% and 10%, respectively, will outgrow their nut allergies by 12-years-old.
Here's what else I learned about anaphylaxis, which I used to think was only the throat-closing emergency I see on TV:
It is important to note that anaphylaxis could lead to a life-threatening condition that needs to be addressed immediately. It is also important to NOT treat it with Benadryl, which only addresses the skin issue and can cause drowsiness (BAD BAD BAD!)
Here's a great video on anaphylaxis and how to administer an epi-pen:
If you've managed to read this far: congratulations, and now you know!
Oh, and the avocado is still to be determined. She needs to be re-tested in 3 months with a fresh avocado, which will give a better indication of an allergy than the extract will.
Food Allergy Canada
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network