Food allergies in young children are common. A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly believes a food is harmful. Any one person can be allergic to any type of food. The eight most common food allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. The severity of the allergic reactions to these foods ranges from a mild skin rash to anaphylaxis. If you suspect that your child may be allergic to ANY food, please have them tested.
About four years ago we had our second daughter. She was a very healthy baby girl. Soon after returning from the hospital things began to change. She cried all the time.
Now, all babies cry. They cry when they are hungry, when they need to be changed, when they are tired, and when something hurts. Addressing one or more of these issues can calm most. Our daughter was breastfed and often cried after feeding. After a month or so, we figured maybe she wasn't getting enough to satisfy her hunger. So, we switched to baby formula. Still, the crying did not stop. After a few visits to the pediatrician she was diagnosed with reflux disease. We then realized she was crying because she was in pain. Sadly, her doctor said there was nothing we could do about it except adjust her formula from milk based formula to a soy formula. She figured maybe the reflux was due to a milk allergy. After 3 or 4 months we began to add solids to her diet. She seemed to get better, less screaming from the reflux and her appetite slowly increased.
We eventually took her off the formula as she began to eat more solids and switched her to soymilk. By the time she was one year old she was eating mostly solids.
It was around this time when she developed eczema. Her skin turned very dark and she scratched all of the time. We put socks and gloves on her hands. We clothed her in long sleeved and long legged pajamas. Still, she scratched layer after layer of skin off daily. The pediatrician just gave us prescription strength hydrocortisone to ease the itching. We would take her back for follow up visits and she would prescribe more hydrocortisone. We were really starting to worry because she did not look healthy. Her lymph nodes were always swollen, she scratched all the time, she was losing hair and it had stopped growing, and she woke up crying every night. She was an absolutely miserable baby. We felt helpless because it seemed like there was nothing we could do and the doctor couldn't figure it out either. I believe that the doctor simply thought that it was eczema and really did not feel it was necessary to test for anything else.
One evening, when she was about 18-19 months old she was having difficulty breathing. She did not look well and we could tell that she was having a hard time as she labored to breathe. We rushed her to the Emergency Room and the doctors gave her a nebulizer treatment to help her breathe. They told us that her oxygen count was low and that she more than likely suffered from asthma. For me, this was difficult to hear. It was yet another issue our "perfectly healthy" baby was having. The doctors said that it was common for eczema and asthma to go together. There was something seriously wrong with our child and we prayed for answers. We prayed for her to be healthy. It was difficult watching her suffer.
By the time she was two years old she was only 18 inches tall and weighed about 15 lbs. She had literally stopped growing. She was still suffering from eczema and she was still having trouble breathing. It was then that her pediatrician finally suggested that she should be tested for food allergies. The tests results were alarming. She was allergic to all eight of the common food allergens. Not only that, but because her allergies were so severe her body was rejecting almost all nutrients. Her body was not absorbing anything, which is why she stopped growing. She was very sick and it took the doctor over a year to help us figure it out. I believe that if we had not figured what was wrong with our daughter, she would not be here with us today.
The next question was what do we feed our child? The allergist suggested Neocate. We could not give her ANY foods. Even foods she was okay to eat. Neocate is a hypoallergenic powder based formula. It is mainly used as a substitute for baby formula but in some cases, it is prescribed to children who cannot eat any other foods. The dilemma was how do we afford it? Will our daughter drink it? How will she react when she sees her older sister and cousin eat food? How long does she have to drink it? How do we prevent others from feeding her? The list went on.
Well, we adjusted, our daughter adjusted and she is again, a healthy baby. She showed almost immediate improvements in her health. She is four now and she is happy and full of energy. She is quite rambunctious. She loves to climb, jump, flip, and run. It's amazing...miraculous. God answered our prayers.
I felt compelled to share our story because I believe that few doctors believe that what ails our children are food allergies even when most of the symptoms look them right in the face. Please be aware that food allergies, when not diagnosed can have a devastating impact on your child's quality of life.
Here are some resources to help if your child has been diagnosed with food allergies or if you believe your child may have food allergies.
Act Against Allergy
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
The American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology