Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Allergies or Eczema?

This is Part 2 of my conversation with my sister-in-law Nicole about my niece Claudia, who has severe allergies to peanuts. She's the first in my family to have such severe allergies to nuts. In this part I asked Nicole how she found out it was an allergy and not some other ailment. I think you'll find this very interesting.

We had such a hard time identifying Claudia’s food allergies. When we called the doctor to ask what we can do about it, he said the magic word “ECZEMA.” We had to change the clothes detergent, use only non-soap based bars, change shampoo, use cream to keep the skin moist, etc, etc. Many of those things we already did and I felt like we got nowhere with his advice. So we became detectives and basically kept track of everything she ate, washing detergents, etc. Her problem was mostly at night; she could not fall asleep because of the itch on her back. She looked like she was scratched by a cat. I have no idea how she reached in some areas of her backside. She was 2 years old at the time. For about 3-4 months it affected us terribly. We had to stay with her at night rubbing her back for hours.

It was one day that it occurred to us that she drank a LOT of milk before bedtime, after bath. Sure enough, after the story and ten minutes into her nap she would wake up scratching like crazy. I called the doctor and complained about her skin again, and also mentioned that when she was about 24 months old her face became swollen when she tried a homemade mayonnaise. At the time I gave her Benadryl and immediately the swelling on her face disappeared. It was scary but I suspected the homemade mayo may have had something in it (like peanut oil) that Claudia might be sensitive to. The person who made it said it didn’t have any peanuts. But his kitchen was not nut free and it could have been contaminated by other nuts. Our own house was not nut free at the time. Usually people say they have no peanuts in the food but do not think of other nuts like pistachios, cashews, etc.

When she was about 2 years old the doctor gave her a RAST test, by taking a blood sample. The results of the blood test proved that her body response was an elevated level of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) when she ate milk, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts and some tree nuts. The nurse I talked to told me to avoid those foods to prevent the itch on her skin. What am I supposed to feed a 2 year old who needs close to 500 mg calcium a day? Luckily, Claudia liked cheese and yogurt and she had no external reactions from eating them. To this day she likes spinach,rice, fish and chicken which are high in calcium.

Anyway, a little after she turned 3 we got her tested again. This time we asked her pediatrician for an allergy specialist where Claudia was given the Skin Prick Test. The test lasts awhile. It was terrible. She cried the whole time and screamed, “Mommy, help me”; I had to hold her arms so she could not touch her back. She reacted to peanuts and tree nuts violently. The other foods seemed to cause no harm. Hallelujah! For half a year we had a nightmare in our hands. No bread, no milk, eggs, etc. I made her 3rd birthday cake wheat, egg, milk AND soy free. I learned how to make wheat free pizza, pasta and she developed well. These days she can eat almost anything; I am a happy mom, except when we go to birthday parties, or when we travel, or when she gets candy from her best friend who is Chinese and can eat peanuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner if she wanted to.

We’ve never had any anaphylactic shock, but we do carry Epipens (epinephrine injection) everywhere we go. Also, we carry Benadryl (antihistamine) when we travel by plane, attend parties or play dates. Claudia is aware of her allergy and she tells everybody who gives her food about it. We are used to it now but for others it is very easy to forget, especially when she looks and acts as normal and energetic as she is.

Do any of you (my dear readers) have questions for Nicole? Feel free to leave a comment!

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