She Says… The Great Allergy Experiment

I talked with our pediatrician yesterday about Owen’s possible wheat allergy and asked for her opinion on seeing an allergist this early in Owen’s life. She confirmed my instinctual reservations about involving an allergist at this point. Babies at this age have lots of intolerances and allergies and issues with various foods because their guts are not mature. Going to an allergist right now could result in false positives, false negatives, and a general sense of frustration if we came home with a list a mile long of things that he tested positive for. Even with that list in hand, we still wouldn’t know which were “real” or which he would grow out of, or which were potentially dangerous or not a big deal at all. She encouraged me to keep a detailed list of things I think he has a reaction to, and at our 9 month appointment when they already draw blood for some other tests, she could run a blood allergy test for those specific things. I’m happy with this plan.

But although that appointment is only a few weeks away, I’m not satisfied with just sitting and waiting until then. No, not me. That would be too easy. And wouldn’t satisfy the voice inside my head that asks every day, “WHY is Owen’s eczema still here? What can I do to make it better? What might be causing it? How can I test this?“.

My pediatrician pointed out that it wasn’t necessarily the wheat that he reacted to. There were a few other ingredients in there he had never had before also. Milk. Or molasses. Or baking soda. It was a super simple bread, thankfully, and I made it myself so I know exactly what went in it.

As we talked, one word kept ringing in my ear. MILK.

The idea of a cow’s milk protein allergy has come up many, many, many times in the last 8 months. When Owen was having reflux and breastfeeding issues, I went on a strict milk and soy-free diet to test this theory. While I thought I saw some improvement in his eating behaviors about a week into the elimination diet, we were still having other physical challenges (due to his tongue tie and my nipple issues), so it was impossible to tease out what was helping and what was still problematic. Once his eczema started in November, he was eating regular formula so beautifully that I didn’t even consider it as a possible culprit because I was so thrilled to have a baby who ate comfortably and happily. We blamed the cold weather, the dry air from the heat in our house, the wind. Since he was doing solids around the time the eczema started, I eliminated each thing he had eaten, one by one, to rule them out. The eczema never budged, so after discussing with my pedi, we decided food wasn’t to blame, and to just keep treating the eczema symptoms. Fingers were crossed it would go away in the spring.

At Owen’s 6 month appointment we were encouraged to add yogurt to his diet, and recently we also added cheese. I guess I figured that if he was allergic to milk proteins, that something more dramatic would happen when we gave him more and more milk-based products. But nothing did. So in my head I pushed the possibility of a milk allergy farther and farther away.

When his cheeks flamed red after eating that bread last week and I saw “contains wheat” on his baby oatmeal, I thought I had figured it out. I really did. I thought that as soon as we stop the oats-with-wheat and wheat, his face would clear and we’d have our answer. And maybe it will; we’ve only eliminated those things for 4 days so far and it takes 10-14 to clear his system.

But yesterday his cheeks were worse than ever. Before we left for daycare that morning and I was packing Owen’s food into his backpack, I said to Benjamin, “Wow, Owen’s eating a lot of dairy today!”. He had yogurt and fruit and rice cereal for breakfast, broccoli, butternut squash and ricotta for lunch, and cheese cubes for a “chewing” snack. When I picked him up from daycare, his cheeks were riddled with raised, red bumps.

Finally, something clicked.

I think I may have been avoiding testing one of the most common allergens. One of the most common causes for eczema. The “food” that he has been eating since day 0, since I practically lived on them during my pregnancy. Milk proteins.

New plan: We’re going back to basics with everything Owen puts in his mouth. Starting with formula. Benjamin ran out last night (at midnight!) to get hypoallergenic formula for Owen. For the next two weeks, until April 20th, we’re eliminating all dairy AND wheat from Owen’s diet. No new foods allowed. Only fruits and veggies that he has eaten previously. Please, please, please let this test tell us something. Even if nothing changes, I guess that tells us something too.

The weather is still cold, so honestly I can’t rule out the possibility of the eczema being caused by dry air from heat. The eczema has never spread beyond his little cheeks, so it’s not like it is a whole body issue. It doesn’t seem to itch him like it did a few months ago, and he’s no longer scratching his cheeks and ears until they bleed. I thought it was getting better. But it’s not. It’s staying the same.

The Great Allergy Experiment begins NOW.

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13 responses to “She Says… The Great Allergy Experiment

  1. We have our baby on a milk protein free diet ever since the Great Bloody Diaper incident of Labor Day weekend 2010. Our specialist at Children’s is having us trial in dairy next month to see if she’s grown out of it. I think she has since she ate pancakes with no problem a few weeks ago. I’m really hoping she has grown out of it because then we can switch her back to regular formula instead of Neocate, aka the 500 dollar a month formula.

    Our baby never had a skin reaction though, just poop issues. Our specialist told us that babies who don’t have skin reactions are more likely to grow out of the allergy (he didn’t elaborate).

    I hope you can figure out Owen’s skin issue! It’s hard because if it clears up, it could be from the warmer weather or the diet changes. Babies…so complicated!

  2. good luck! you’ve been through so much already; i hope you guys can figure this out soon so you can spend your time just enjoying life and not having to research and worry about feeding issues! 😦

  3. I have an almoste 4 year old that has had (and grown out of a lot already) numberous food allergies and have had every test in the book. You should do some research on the types of allergy testing. The blood test (that the pediatrician can give) is far more inaccurate than the skin test (that the allergist can give). And yes, he could have a skin test this young, but with the skin test they can only test for things he has already ate. The blood test will often show up false positives. It will show an allergy even when the child would have no reaction in real life. The skin test does not do this.

  4. Oh boy, you guys have really had to be super detectives over the last 8 months! Not fun! I can tell you this, you are going to be the Mom that Owen will never be able to get one past! 🙂

    I hope this experiment will shed some more light on Owen’s eczema. I think we were both using the same Enfamil formula (the yellow A+ one). Once Cameron started solids after 6 months I “upgraded” to the orange A+ one. Did you stick with the same yellow one? Not that it matters for milk protein because they would both be the same in that respect, but just curious.

  5. Good luck! I hope you find some answers in this (seemingly) neverending process. Owen is lucky to have such dedicated and investigative parents!

  6. That makes sense! I hope this test works for you. It’s so hard to figure this stuff out, isn’t it? It seems like every symptom could appear for 57 different reasons. Ryan is constantly battling congestion, coughs and an occasional unexplained loss of appetite. EVERY ailment in a baby causes those symptoms, so we’re constantly trying to figure out if he has allergies, a cold, the flu, RSV, maybe he’s teething, maybe his ear infection is lingering, AHHH!

    Good luck – let us know if he get any better!

  7. so sorry your little guy is dealing with eczema! our 7 month old had it so bad over his ENTIRE body and he was barely sleeping. he was constantly scratching his head and arms and legs. I took him to the derm and they gave us some heavy duty steroid cream to use for a week and it cleared up instantly. now we just manage it with another much milder cream. i wasn’t crazy about using such a strong medicine, but honestly he was so miserable, i was desperate to help him. good luck!

  8. Goodness! I’m glad that the pediatrician was honest with you about seeing the allergist and I hope the next two weeks show you something about relieving poor Owen’s eczema.

  9. I can only comment based on my husband’s (a Chinese medical doctor) clinical experiences… Milk is one of the biggest causes of health problems. I think you’re on the right track!

  10. I know what you are going through. All three of my kids had/have allergies and all to different things. The eldest child also has asthma. I am celiac and my husband is lactose intolerant. There was a time when trying to prepare meals for this family of five was a fulltime job! Two of the three are out of the nest now, so it is simpler, but it is an arduous and often frustrating journey.

    A lot of kids are said to “outgrow” childhood allergies but, in my experience, the allergies just go underground, not away.

    The good news is that is not too difficult nowadays to accommodate different dietary needs. Public awareness of these allergies has resulted in many new products being created (e.g.gluten free flours) to respond to these needs.

  11. My little guy had this problem and when we switched to nutramigen, voila! new baby! Good Luck and hope you figure it out! :0)

  12. Good luck! Your post actually made a lot of things click for me and I think we may be doing something similar over the next couple of weeks. We did a bunch of allergy tests with a GI doctor and it showed that our 2-year-old had no out-right allergies. But, intolerances can still lead to problems. One word of caution — if you are looking at soy yogurt, they still have milk casein in it. I didn’t realize that for a while! I hope that this gives you come answers.

  13. I don’t really know that much about infant allergies, but I wouldn’t rule out the cause of cold air/dry heat– just because it’s only on his cheeks (largely the most-often exposed area of skin). He’s usually in pants and a shirt at least, right? And you’d think if it were an allergy, the inflammation, redness and/or bumps would spread more than just to his cheeks, wouldn’t it?

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