This month, we had the privilege of talking with Yi Lian. Yi is a member of the Montreal Anaphylaxis Support Group. Her toddler was recently diagnosed with food allergies. Here, she tells us about her family’s journey as they work to manage their son’s allergies.
Please tell our readers a bit about how you learned that your son had food allergies. When was he diagnosed?
My son is 15 months old now. So far, we know he is allergic to eggs, milk, and wheat. I haven’t introduced any nuts, peanuts or shellfish yet.
Has your son had any reactions? If so, what was that like for you?
My son developed severe eczema when he was a month old. Doctors told us it might be temporary, and that I should keep breastfeeding him without eliminating anything from my diet. So I did, and I hoped that the annoying rash would disappear when he was about six months old as it does with many babies. However, it didn’t. His eczema always came back when we stopped using the cortisone cream. Then, when he was eight months old, he had his first anaphylactic reaction after I introduced wheat noodles to his diet. We went to see an allergist a week later, and had a skin test for wheat. However, the test was negative. Then I realized it might be eggs. I boiled an egg for myself in the noodle soup. So we tested him again for eggs. The test was positive, and we left the allergist’s office with an EpiPen® prescription.
However, his eczema was still flaring up badly, and I felt there was something else bothering him. I switched him to Alimentum® formula, and found that his skin improved, even it still flared up from time to time. So we tested him again for milk when he was 10 months old, and yes, he was allergic to milk too. However, since my son never had any real cow’s milk, we were told that the result could be a false positive. The only way to really know for sure was to give him some cow’s milk and see. The allergy was confirmed when he was 14 months old, after I gave him three spoons of yogurt, and he had his second anaphylactic reaction.
After cutting out cow’s milk and egg from his diet, he got so much better. But I still found that every time he ate a wheat product, he either cried a lot or his skin flared a little bit. I was not sure what was happening. But just last Saturday morning, I made some egg-free, milk-free pancakes with wheat flour. After eating the second pancake, he started to scratch himself. I took off his clothes, and saw hives. He also had diarrhea that night. So we now know that he is allergic to wheat too.
The first time he reacted to eggs, I was scared. Because I have no allergies myself, and none of my family members or close friends have food allergies, I didn’t know what was going on. We rushed to the ER when we saw his ears begin to swell.
The second time, when he reacted to yogurt, I was more prepared but still scared. It happened on the day we went to my son’s routine check-up with his family doctor. I chose that day to try yogurt because I thought that if ever he reacted, it should be at the hospital. He started to rub his eyes, and had a runny nose and non-stop coughing on our way to the hospital (15 minutes after eating the yogurt). By the time we arrived, he was wheezing and had hives all over.
Then there was the wheat reaction, which was less severe, but there nonetheless. I was still very concerned and disappointed to find out that he had yet another allergy.
Our son goes to daycare, and we are lucky enough to have a daycare that prepares special meals tailored to his allergies. However, he is still a baby. Once, for example, he picked up some cake from the floor, ate it, and ended up rubbing his eyes, which had become red.
How are you and your family learning to cope with and manage your son’s allergies?
Our family is still learning to cope with the food allergies. It is a complete change for me. First, let’s consider the kitchen. It’s a bit ironic to think how I used to love crêpes containing egg, milk, and wheat flour. But my son is allergic to all these ingredients! But I look for new products in different grocery stores. And of course, there are now new recipes to learn. My rice banana pancakes taste pretty good when they are fresh, for example.
Second, I need to advocate for our son at his daycare. They no longer use any food with eggs due to my son’s allergies. However, milk and wheat cannot be easily replaced. He will just have to eat on his own chair instead of sitting with other babies at the table. Lastly, but most importantly, we have a great allergist to help us. Our allergist always replies to us quickly when we have questions and concerns. Even though I feel very overwhelmed by my son’s allergies and asthma, at least I know we are in good hands.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have had in raising a young child with food allergies so far? How has it affected your life?
The biggest challenge I am struggling a lot with right now is how to have a normal life again. I am not simply talking about eating crêpes with my son; I just wish that I could have a moment to relax a little bit. Every day, no matter where we go or what we do, I am hovering over him. Even so, he still gets hives out of nowhere sometimes. We have a wonderful daycare. However, when he is there, I am always worried about him even though I know the educators are doing a great job.
He gets sick very often due to his asthma and allergic rhinitis. So I cannot go back to work because I need to be there for him when he is sick. People might say “then keep him at home.” But he loves his daycare, and we don’t want to lose our spot at such a wonderful child care centre. He has learned so much there. And in the end, I want my son to have a normal life as a baby too. I can protect him for now, but I cannot keep him in the bubble I create for him all his life. We have to deal with all these issues sooner or later.
Financially, it is very challenging too. Now I am a full-time mom, and we are living on only one salary that my husband brings in. It is expensive to buy gluten-free products, body creams, special detergents, medications, and hypoallergenic formula.
Lastly, I am tired of hearing from people who don’t really know what we are going through and tell me that they get it. No, they don’t.
Still, I don’t want to let allergies take over my happiness. I know that many other parents have gone through this, and we can too.
What advice do you have for other parents managing a brand new diagnosis of food allergy?
I am a newly diagnosed allergy parent too, and I still have a lot to learn. I find that getting help is crucial to fight this long battle. I feel reassured to have our allergist who follows my son’s condition closely, and our daycare, that tries their best to make it safe for my son. And I also have our local support group. Every time I feel overwhelmed, my support group leader, Carla, can always calm me down by telling me what she and her family have been through, and by providing me with possible solutions and ideas.
Another piece of advice for other parents of newly-diagnosed children is to be prudent about the information you might find online, especially home remedies. I think I might have made my son’s skin condition worse because I read that some herbal remedies could help. I regretted it deeply. Also, be sure to treat the symptoms aggressively under a doctor’s guidance. I was very concerned about the side effects of cortisone, and tried to limit the dosage, which led to additional ER visits. So be sure to follow the doctor’s directions.
To find a support group near you or to learn more, visit our Support Group page.