Hudson's Allergy Story
Updated: May 5, 2020
Welcome to my first blog post! I’ve kept notes for years about recipes and what works for my son’s allergies, but it’s so exciting to be able to share these notes, tips, and reflections going forward. I’m so excited to share our story and meet so many of you who are on a similar journey!
I think I was mentally prepared for my babies to have environmental allergies before I was even pregnant because I have quite a history myself. I have asthma, administer weekly allergy shots for myself, have had sinus surgery, and take allergy and asthma medication daily. I also had one food allergy - malt. Fifteen years after my diagnosis, malt doesn’t really even cause a reaction for me anymore. You won’t ever find me eating a chocolate covered malt ball, but for the most part I’m ok with it now. In fact, I didn’t even really consider myself someone who had a food allergy all these years later (until this year when new allergies popped up).
None of us is ever prepared to find out that our child has food allergies, but I’m telling you - as a long-time allergy patient - it wasn’t even on my radar. Enter Hudson at six months old and his awful eczema. He was exclusively breastfed so food reactions didn’t even cross my mind. I covered him in cream every night after his bath, used the most basic, cleanest soaps I could find, but I couldn’t kick the eczema that was in his knee creases, elbow creases, and on his face. I tried anti-fungals, antibiotics when the open sores from eczema would get infected, and I even tried rubbing butter on the poor boy’s skin, at the recommendation of my acupuncturist. Spoiler alert: we later found out that he was allergic to milk. Yikes. When you find out you’re rubbing one of your child’s food allergies all over his skin it sure doesn’t make you feel like Mom of the Year.
After a couple months of no improvement, I finally requested a basic food allergy blood panel with our pediatrician, and sure enough, he tested positive for two foods - eggs and peanuts. I remember being shocked when the doctor called us with the results, and I was also instantly devastated for him. He hadn’t even tasted solid food yet and he already had restrictions. I immediately fast-forwarded through his childhood and felt sad for all of the things he would miss. In my family, every holiday, celebration, and event had always been accompanied by delicious treats made by my mom, and now he wouldn’t get them. Ironically, I didn’t fear for his safety. I felt completely in control because I knew that I would immediately remove his allergens from my diet, and I was naïve to all the risks of food allergies. I felt safe knowing that he wasn’t eating food himself yet, so I could keep him safe by eliminating my food. And that worked for a long time.
Hudson was a delayed eater. He really didn’t eat much beyond applesauce until he was about 14 months old. He was actually on a waiting list to start feeding therapy, but he began eating fairly well before we were able to get him in. As he started to eat more foods, we began noticing the eczema reappearing, mostly around his mouth. We took him back in for retesting and found that he had additional allergies - now to milk and walnuts.
Hudson’s story has been much of the same until last year, 2019. We learn of new allergies, update his “foods-to-avoid” list, and retest when we suspect a new allergy might be present. It's been pretty exhausting and frustrating. We almost expected to learn of a new allergy every time we had an allergy appointment and something just didn’t sit right about that. At one of our visits last year, his allergist reviewed the latest blood work with us and explained to me that his peanut allergy was now too high to test, and he had also developed allergies to almonds and a couple other nuts, along with wheat. The almond allergy was pretty crushing for both of us. His favorite thing in the entire world was almond butter. A banana with almond butter, to be exact. I couldn’t believe I had to tell him he couldn’t have it again. I actually cried when I told him he couldn’t have almond butter anymore because his body didn’t like it. I saw tears in his eyes, but he never cried. I could see him trying to process everything I had just told him, though. He’s seriously the strongest, most mature little human I’ve ever met. Selfishly, I now had to find new ways to bake alllll the things. Almond flour was my go-to gluten-free flour. You see, even though he had never tested positive for a wheat allergy on paper, we had been avoiding it for almost a year prior because he always developed eczema on his lips when he ate it. All of the treats that I had in my “safe foods” library had to be reinvented without almond flour now. My other selfish disappointment was his newly discovered cashew allergy. All of my dairy-free cream sauces revolved around cashews! At this point, he had an allergy to six of the eight major allergens - everything but fish and shellfish - which he doesn’t even like...go figure.
I felt like I was running out of foods he could safely eat - especially as a toddler with a limited palate. At this point, his allergist asked if we were feeding him on a rotation diet and when I
sheepishly told her we hadn’t implemented that yet, since her last mention of it, she told me now was the time. If we didn’t do it, he could eventually end up being allergic to many of the foods he eats, and it sure seemed like we were well on our way. Every time we found out he was allergic to a food we would find a way around it or a similar substitution. But in time, our once-safe substitutions were becoming problems too. My only option left was to feed Hudson “in fours” so that he was eating a food only one day out of every four.
I started this transition kicking and screaming a bit. It felt almost impossible with such a limited selection of safe foods. If he was a bit older and ate more variety it might have been a little easier, but it was an uphill battle for me. Hudson took it in stride better than I did. I gave myself a few weeks to research, plan, and prepare some food for the freezer, and then we started. I began rotating fruits only because that seemed the easiest to practice with. I tried to give myself grace and my husband and I told each other that we would probably mess up a lot at first while we got used to it and worked out the kinks of this new way of eating. And we did make mistakes, but it became a little more normal the longer we did it. Next, we added protein to the rotation, which was a bit harder than fruit, but still very manageable. The last thing to incorporate was the starch group. It was a beast. You don’t realize how many foods, especially gluten-free, are made with multiple starches (rice flour, corn flour, potato starch, etc.). We had to find him new snacks and focused on foods that only had a few ingredients. Sprouts Farmers Market and Thrive Market to the rescue! We loosely organized our pantry by ingredient to make snack time easier, and we finally found a system that worked for us!
I would love to say that the rotation started working and we stopped seeing the addition of new allergies, but unfortunately, he ate two pistachios and had a bad reaction that landed us in urgent care on Christmas Day. We knew that pistachios and cashews (a known allergy for him) are in the same family, but up until that day pistachios were safe for him. A couple months later we believe he unknowingly inhaled peanut dust at Disneyland and it started the worst hives several doctors had ever seen from an allergic reaction. It was six days, tons of Benadryl, a steroid injection, and days of oral Prednisone before we stopped seeing new hives appear and his body began to recover. A follow-up blood test showed that pistachios were now his second highest allergy and he was also allergic to fish and shellfish now. He is now allergic to all top 8 food allergies.
We are all frustrated that the rotation diet has not seemed to completely prevent new allergies from appearing. We took a break from it for a bit, but we are starting back up because I do believe there is value and validity to it. His allergist has referred us to a pediatric immunologist to see if there is anything beyond the food allergies that we are missing. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted if we learn anything new!