Monday, July 9, 2012

Parenting a Child with Food Allergies Part 3: Mystery Allergic Reactions

This is Part 3 of my series on Parenting a Child with Food Allergies. Here's the link's to Part 1, There's Something Wrong and Part 2: Mom of the Allergic Child if you want to catch up. 
Any parent who says they have found a successful treatment for their allergic child's food allergies, seasonal allergies, or asthma is usually new to the game. I have learned the only goal is to get things currently under control. There is no long term treatment plan.  You're not working for a cure. It's managing a constant, chronic, always changing condition. The situation is going to change, and you'll need to adjust your treatment as soon as you get comfortable.

Before we continue, I just wanted to include a pic of DS as he is most of the time. Happy and healthy :)
I think what happened over the next year is pretty typical of a family new to dealing with allergies. The skin testing was done in the summer. In the fall we had our first bout of seasonal allergies, and we started DS on Zyrtec. Things began to improve dramatically, but I hated my baby being on a daily antihistamine. Hated it! What were the unknown side effects on his still developing brain? Every day I hated giving it to him. Thankfully, the food allergies were so much better! We rarely had a reaction. I'm not sure we had to give benedryl at all during the fall of 2011. In fact, we began re-introducing a bit of milk products. Very well done pizza (the higher the temp, the more milk protein is broken down), and chocolate baked goods were now acceptable. Our 6 month followup with the allergist came around in december, and we were going to do repeat skin testing. I had big plans to blow the doc away with DS's improvments.  One thing I've learned not just from parenting just allergic child, but from parenting in general, never get too attached to plans!  At our allergy offic, in order to do skin testing, you can't have any antihistamine in your system for the previous five days. This meant we had to stop zyrtec, and not give benedryl at all during that time. I wasn't worried about this because it was winter, so his seasonal allergies shouldn't be that bad, and his food allergies had improved so much I didn't expect any reactions.  In fact, it was my plan to ask the doctor if we could stop Zyrtec entirely.  I was excited to soon have a med free, normal, healthy, allergy-free child.

The day after we stopped zyrtec we dropped DS off at his sitters (a very good friend of mine). He only goes once a week due to conflicting work schedules between DH and I. He stays for four hours, and my friend is always very mindful to avoid his allergens, but this time he had a reaction within 15 minutes of us dropping him off.  The same old reaction returned, hives, and facial swelling.  My good friend gave the benedryl that we always send with him, and it effectively stopped the reaction. His reactions are so scary to watch.  I can't imagine watching it happen to someone else's child while they were in my care.  I was really appreciative that she continues to watch him despite the terror she must have felt that day. I didn't cancel the skin testing at this point because I thought we still would have four antihistamine free days, and I was hoping the allergist would still allow it. Two days later, I had a different friend watch DS so we could go get my 8 week ultrasound done for my second pregnancy (sadly, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage a month later).  It was supposed to be a really exciting day for us, and it still was, but right after we finished the ultrasound and were waiting to see the OB, I received this picture via text.


You guessed it, facial hives and swelling, except this time the hives had appeared all over his head. They were even on his scalp. This friend has a fear of allergic reactions and seems to have gone into a panic when she realized what was happening.  I'm still unclear on the details and order of events, but it seems he became fussy within minutes of his arrival, and again, after about 15 minutes he was in a full blown reaction. She tried to give DS the benedryl, but he was combative.  Though it was adult versus toddler, she didn't want to spill the dose and then not know if he'd taken enough. She called her neighbor to run over and hold down DS so she could better give the meds. It worked soon enough (I think the more severe reaction was due to the delay in treatment) and all was well.  Again, I was very appreciative of everything she did, and what she went through.  Severe allergic reactions are scary!  She has since invited DS over for playdates as long as I come with him, but she never watched him alone again.  It's possible it's just a coincidence.  She never said it was because of his allergies, but if it is I really don't blame her.  Mild food allergies are so common, it's hard for a lot of people to take severe allergies seriously.  A lot of mom's might refuse to watch a child with a medical condition, not out of prejudice, but just out of fear they wouldn't be able to handle an emergency. Would you watch a child with severe epilepsy? Some would and some wouldn't.  Such a child is sort of a time bomb.  It's the same for a child with severe allergies, except at a glance they appear to be healthy children.  In our society, "food allergy" is often not even considered a real medical condition.  Someone might agree to to watch an allergic child without realizing to what they were agreeing.
Back to our skin testing saga. We had two reactions in the first three days being off Zyrtec that required benedryl. There was no way the doc was going to do skin testing. I called to confirm. They said they would do blood testing instead, and that it wasn't really a bad thing. They would test him for all environmental allergies as well as the foods.

Once that was done, I moved on to trying to figure out what had caused the reactions. They both had occured within minutes of being dropped off at someones house.  My anti-attachment parenting friends said it was due to anxiety from being away from me.  Militant allergy moms said it was because a child with severe allergies is only safe in his own home. Eventually, I figured it out. It had to be the dogs.  I'd been suspecting a dog allergy because DS sometimes got a rash when petting them, and soon he stopped wanting to pet them.  We have an indoor cat, but no indoor dogs. It was the only thing common to both homes, and explained why the reaction had occurred within minutes of entering each home. In both cases my first question had been, "did he eat anything?" and in both cases they said it had happened too soon after his arrival.  Of course they hadn't given him anything, they wouldn't have had the time. I was beginning to realize my dream of getting DS off Zyrtec was just a dream.  Everyone we know has dogs, and without the meds, this environmental allergy was severe.  What if it was the same with the food allergies? What if the Zyrtec was working so well, he wasn't having reactions? What if he hadn't improved at all?

To be continued in Part 4

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