Food Allergies, Part 1

When Cookie was about nine months old, she developed food allergies. At least, that’s when we figured it out.

Cookie 9mos

It all began so innocently. She was just starting to eat solid foods and doing really well. We went to a family birthday party and she got to have a few bites of birthday cake. All was fine. We went home and when I took her out of the car, I noticed her face was quite red. It was August so I didn’t worry much about it – assuming it was from the heat. In fact that entire incident would never have been remembered except that a few weeks later, I decided to let her try a bit of scrambled egg.

My older girls love to eat scrambled eggs and I was looking forward to fixing a non-yogurt breakfast for a change. One bite of egg and she seemed to like it. I turned from Cookie to put another bite on the fork and when I turned back to her, her face was red around her mouth and cheeks. Hmm…was her face red before? (Hey, I am NOT a morning person. Sometimes those details elude me.) So I put the next bite in her mouth and turned to fork up another bit. Upon turning back to her, I saw my sweetie’s now bright red face completely covered in hives.

Of course, I immediately threw the spoon down, scooped her up and washed her face and hands off and then called the pediatrician. We were referred to an allergist who performed the standard skin test. All that appeared on that test was egg, peanut, and wheat.

We knew about egg, of course. She had just begun having some wheat (goldfish crackers and that sort of thing) and we didn’t notice any problems. She had never been exposed to peanut so we weren’t sure if that was a true allergy or not. (As we were told at the time by the allergist, you must have a positive reaction to the test and a positive reaction to the food in order to really call it an allergy.) We came away from that appointment with instructions to use Benadryl and/or an EpiPen for allergic reactions. I was terrified to give her anything to eat.

Well a couple of months later, Cookie found some peanut butter and managed to touch it before I could stop her. That was all it took for her entire body to explode in hives. I put her in the bathtub, washed her clothes and wiped down anything and everything she might have touched and then promptly threw all peanut products away.

That left wheat. The allergist suggested we leave wheat out of her diet for three weeks and then try adding it back in. If there were no problems adding it back, then the test was probably a false positive. So we left out wheat for three weeks and when we added it back I never saw hives so I assumed she was fine. A food allergy always shows up in the skin, right? Except that wheat (which has always been her biggest skin-test reaction), unbeknownst to me, creates a different problem for her.

In the meantime, her skin was a mess and so we were given the usual lotions and prescription strength steroid ointments to heal it. Nothing worked.

Cookie 13 mo

(You can see how red her cheeks were. I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of her feet, legs and arms.)

At about age 13 months, she suddenly stopped sleeping through the night. 2am to 4am religiously every night, she was UP! She’d scream and cry…and we didn’t know why. Then she wanted to play, talk, do anything but sleep. And there’s nothing you could do to get her to go back to sleep. I should also mention at this point that she had chronic constipation (which I’m sure played into the screaming at night). After about three months of this new nighttime routine and increasingly worsening constipation bouts, we decided to go gluten-free for her in addition to avoiding egg and peanut.

And when did we think would be a good time to start this experiment? Why, our first day of a 10-day vacation, naturally! Man, were we crazy! But we were also successful. I carefully researched restaurants in each town we stopped to find someplace with a gluten-free menu and then worked with the staff to customize a meal for her. Or, if we couldn’t find someplace, we’d find a grocery store and buy some yogurt. Wasn’t always easy but it worked! After about three or four days of being gluten-free, her constipation went away and she was regular for the first time since starting solid foods. This is when it dawned on me that she IS in fact allergic to wheat (and subsequently tested positive for barley and rye as well) but her allergic reaction is in her gut not her skin.

Of course she still wasn’t sleeping…but we’ll get to that later.

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