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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Discovering Food Allergies: Part 1

I have had more than a few people ask how we discovered our children's food allergies and Gina pointed out that that would make a great WFMW post but since Shannon is not posting a WFMW today I will just tell the story and how it worked. I have a suspicion that because of the steps taken, that it will likely be a series of posts instead of just one as there were several steps to our discovery, which lead us to different aspects of the food allergies. The best way I can think of telling it is through story, which may make it longer, but may clarify a few things.

The second time I met my husband I was on break while working at McDonald's. (For those who don't know, the first time I met him was at work and I asked him, "Shamus??? Did your parent's hate you to give you a name like that?-- He was very gracious despite my rudeness and we did end up talking again after that. :)) He came down to the breakroom to wait for his time to sign in. I was eating an ice cream sunday and offered him some. He replied, "No thank you, I am allergic to milk."

I laughed. I had tons of environmental allergies but had never heard of food allergies. He was known to be a kidder so I thought he was joking. He spent the rest of my break convincing me that he really was allergic to milk to the point that his throat would swell shut (anaphylactic shock). We started dating 6 months later and I learned a lot more about the milk allergy (especially some of the places where milk is hidden, like in sherbert.)

Not long after we met I went off to college where I discovered that I had trouble with anything with yeast. (I didn't know that sugar feeds yeast so didn't eliminate the sugar.) In my third year of school I went to Poland as part of our college art student exchange program. While there I had to avoid yeast. I then had to add meat to the avoid list when I found that the meat--hormones in the meat-- was causing my moods to swing out of control. The only things I could eat that I knew were safe were vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. Over there they had no low fat dairy and I blimped up. When I returned home I was sick of dairy and avoided it like the plague. A few weeks later I had a cheese stick. My throat started to itch then it felt like I couldn't breath right. I called Shamus (it was one of our "dating" times during our on again off again relationship). He suggested that I might be having an allergic reaction because it sounded like how he felt when he had milk. He had me drink tons of HOT water, take an allergy pill, and drink something caffeinated. After a bit the swelling ceased then went down. I did not go into full anaphylactic shock, and have not since though I have had more than a few small episodes of the same type.

I asked him what he thought I should do about it. (Notice here that I didn't call my doctor. I had had plenty of help from doctors regarding my environmental allergies and not one had ever mentioned the possibility of food allergies triggering them. At the time calling Shamus, who knew what it was like and how to live with it, seemed the best choice.) He told me what they did when they discovered that he was having trouble with milk in high school and suggested I do the same:

1. Avoid everything with dairy (or whatever you think is causing a reaction) for a week solid. This means reading lots and lots of labels. It is amazing what is in the foods we eat that we don't notice. Also there are different forms of dairy that are hidden in our foods. Nowadays they tell you if something has any allergens, they didn't then. I have a list our pediatrician gave us of hidden allergens in food, but have to find it before I can share it.

2. After a week, give a spoonful or less of the possible allergen--in its purest form. Eating it in another form may not be helpful because of the other ingredients. You need to check each individual ingredient of the thing that made you sick, one week at a time. So if the allergic reaction happened with icecream, it may be milk, soy, sugar, corn, dye, or whatever other ingredients it contains.

Disclaimer-If you are dealing with possible anaphylactic shock you should be prepared to call the hospital or have an Epi-pen on hand in case of a serious reaction. This is especially true with nut allergies which can be dangerous. If you are not sure about trying this and are afraid of a serious reaction (especially if there has been a serious reaction before) talk to your doctor beforehand. In this case I had eaten a whole cheese stick and so just tried a tiny bit of milk. I had a mild reaction but it was definite.

3. If, after the previous trial you are unsure, give it another week or two off and try again. There are several possibilities here. You may be having more than one allergic reaction or one form (like ice cream)bothers you while another (like yogurt) does not. You may be having a reaction to something else that you ate around the same time (or within 2 days prior to the reaction). The other possibility is that it is a combination of ingredients that sets you off, for example, if you are allergic to milk and soy but only mildly to each, then you may not react to a glass of milk or of soy milk but may with a candy bar or ice cream.

4. Once you have pinpointed an allergen avoid it for a prolonged period. Going back to it after a long period can actually cause a more extreme reaction. I noticed after avoiding milk for a time that my environmental allergies and headaches diminished. As I eliminated different foods I got healthier and healthier, and my skin cleared up.

There is a lot more to the story so if you started reading please come back next week. Once you find food allergies there is often an over all cause (as I found) and which, if not dealt with, may cause more and more food allergies as you eliminate others. The next stage of this story talks about our discovery of dye allergies--which is different from food allergies, even though dyes are in foods. Also to come, dealing with the food allergies, finding the underlying cause, and treating them. (Thanks Gina I think I may have at least a month of posts in this one.)


Gina said...

I'm not sure if my kids are allergic, but I've tried to take my kids off of processed foods, dyes, hydrongenated oils (haven't tried milk though.) We don't have noticeable reactions except I see the difference in my kids' behavior when we eat a lot of fast food.

I'm really excited to hear the rest of the story.

:-)Ronie said...

My twins are allergic to Red dye #40. They can become violent aggressive, as if it prevents the inhibitory processes to their behavior. Anyway, we don't completely eliminate dairy, but I do largely limit it. There aren't strong reactions like your husband has, but I do see the difference. We generally stay away from any partially hydrogenated too. :-D

DK said...

When I was small, (in the 60's) I used to break out in rashes and hives with a host of foods. I was allergic to everything, or so it seemed. It wasn't until I was in my 30's that I finally found the culprit, the common denominator in everything that gave me trouble - garlic. It's in everthing - salad dressing, meat seasonings, soups, you name it. Now I know what to avoid!