May 9-15 is National Food Allergy Awareness Week.
This is a photo of my 4 year-old daughter, Taylor. If you've read my blog much you know that Taylor has food allergies. She is one of the 3 to 5 million children in the U.S. who have food allergies. To find out why I took this picture, keep reading.
As an infant, Taylor was a bundle of allergy symptoms but because the world of food allergies is often confusing, I didn't realize the symptoms she had were related to food. It all became a little clearer as we introduced dairy products.
Taylor was exclusively breastfed until the age of 6 months when we introduced rice cereal. I didn't restrict my diet in any way while I was nursing and thus she was exposed to all the foods I ate (at least if the proteins in the food were passed through my milk, which they often are).
I knew a little bit about food allergies and I knew that one should introduce solid foods cautiously when there is a history of allergies in the family (which there is in mine). I fed her one food for a few days and didn't see anything unusual (for her) and continued on with the next food.
Once we introduced dairy products, I began to see that she had GI issues (that'd be my nice way of saying nasty diapers!) when she ate dairy products. Nasty diapers were normal for her because I was eating dairy products while nursing, but they became even worse once she ate dairy directly. The worst offender was straight cow's milk. Still not really realizing this was an allergy, I limited her dairy, but didn't feel that it warranted any medical attention. She continued to have frequent, unexplained rashes, reflux, GI issues and frequent night-waking/crying.
We were officially thrown into the world of food allergies one Sunday morning in October of 2007 when I fed Taylor a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal. I mixed up the instant oatmeal and handed it to her in her high chair. At 18 months old she fed herself as I turned my back and unloaded the dishwasher. Within a few minutes I heard her say "all done" and I turned around to take her bowl. I was shocked at what I saw. My baby girl's face, hands and arms were bright red. That's when I realized we were dealing with food allergies. I took pictures to show our pediatrician and watched her like a hawk. I'm embarrassed that I didn't even think to give her Benadryl or call the on-call doctor or take her to the ER. Fortunately her reaction did not progress.
A similar reaction the next day, led me to call for an immediate appointment with our pediatrician who then sent us to an allergist. I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together and with the help of our allergist and a good gastroenterologist (a GI doctor), as well as a reaction to soy milk, we have determined that Taylor has Milk/Soy Protein Intolerance (MSPI). This is VERY different than lactose intolerance, although the symptoms may appear to be similar. MSPI manifests as delayed GI reactions to milk and soy protein. Every food has protein (well, except salt and sugar) and a food allergy is an immune system response to a food protein. People who have lactose intolerance do not produce lactase which is an enzyme that is required in the digestion of dairy products. Most people with lactose intolerance can drink "Lactaid milk" or take Lactaid prior to consuming dairy and will not have an adverse reaction to dairy. People with a milk allergy and milk protein intolerance will have a reaction to milk products even if they consume Lactaid prior to drinking milk or eating milk products.
Allergies can manifest in different ways and many children with food allergies react to the food they are allergic to with hives, swelling, and/or breathing problems. Food allergies are very serious and can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. These serious reactions can be triggered by minute amounts of the allergen.
Fortunately, within a few days of Taylor's reaction to the oatmeal and it's other ingredients (she's not allergic to oats), I was strongly nudged by a friend to join Kids With Food Allergies (KFA). KFA was the first message board I'd ever participated in. Basically, you register, post a question and then several of the 20, 000 members will respond to you with their experiences! How cool is THAT! And your post is only visible to other members, not to anyone who wants to google you or food allergies ;)
KFA is a non-profit organization with a Medical Advisory Team who contribute to and review the KFA resources to ensure accuracy of information, and dozens of volunteers who are parents of children with food allergies. The volunteers and the members of KFA are so welcoming that I quickly felt as though KFA was a second family to me. There is no cure for food allergies and there needs to be more research done to find a cure, but in the meantime, as a parent of a child with food allergies, I needed to know what to feed my child and how to keep her safe at playdates, with babysitters and at preschool. The members and volunteers of KFA have taught me all of those things. While they don't provide any medical advice, I've found their wealth of experience incredibly helpful in knowing what questions to ask our doctors and how to best advocate for my daughter.
I began volunteering for KFA about a year and a half ago and I was thrilled when I was recently offered the position as the on-line Community Manager. KFA members can now participate in discussion on the forums for free and can purchase a "Family Membership" for additional benefits including full access to KFAs educational resources and over 1,000 allergy friendly (and delicious!) recipes.
If you, or someone you know, is a parent of a child with food allergies, KFA is a priceless source of support that can make all the difference in improving the quality of life for children with food allergies and their parents. KFA is a non-profit organization that needs your support. Please consider making a tax deductible donation to help KFA continue to support families managing food allergies. To donate to Kids with Food Allergies click here.
Thank you for reading Taylor's story.
To see some of the faces of food allergies (and to see why I took the picture of Taylor), go here.
The following are some great resources for anyone dealing with food allergies: