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Fee Fi Fo Fum, Food Allergies

When Tristan was first diagnosed with eczema at three months old , I had absolutely zero idea that food could trigger eczema. The doctors never mentioned it. We just went right along with the steroid creams and heavy moisturizers that were prescribed.

After Tristan’s (and mine) first ever visit with a natural practitioner, an appointment made after much coaxing from my in-laws, we were advised that it was quite possible that Tristan was intolerant to a few foods, which could be aggravating his body and causing the eczema. I was told dairy, specifically cow’s milk, was very hard for the body to digest and to try removing it from Tristan’s diet to see if there was any improvement in his skin. I removed cow’s milk and all other milk products. But, how could my little one year old live without cheese or yogurt? I purchased soy yogurt and vegan cheese. But wait, casein, isn’t that a milk protein? Why was casein listed as in ingredient in vegan cheese? Isn’t that a little contradictory? That was my first shocking discovery in the horribly misleading world of food labels. In the years that have passed I have continued to lose faith, almost daily, in the quality of ingredients and the misrepresentation of food labels in general. But I digress.

Eliminating dairy didn’t change a thing. So, we kept on with the steroids and creams. I then heard about wheat, so I tried removing that too, but no change. My mistake at the time was that I only removed wheat, not gluten as a whole, but more on that in a post to come.

I asked our pediatrician about food allergies and she did say it was possible, although she never mentioned the idea on her own. She suggested we test him via blood draw and the skin prick test. In the skin prick test he reacted to some seasonal allergies, cats, dogs, and walnuts. In the blood test he reacted to walnuts again, but that was all. From then on we were careful around walnuts, but we were never informed about the dangers of tree nuts. The doctor never suggested an EpiPen.

Tristan during a mild eczema reaction – red, greasy, balm covered face. (Totally goofy photo, I know.)

Fast forward two years, Tristan’s skin was getting worse. We went to a party and Tristan was enjoying the food. Suddenly he got a red rash around his mouth, along with hives and his breathing was a little strained. My husband and I panicked. Walnuts? Did anything contain walnuts? We hadn’t seen any, but sure enough, one of the salads contained finely chopped walnuts. No doctor had ever told us he could react this way, we didn’t have an EpiPen or even Benadryl. My husband ran to the store, one block away, and by the time he was back with Benadryl in hand, Tristan was already recovering. Luckily the reaction wasn’t horrible, but we gave him the Benadryl anyway to be sure. Now we knew to be careful with walnuts and we insisted on an EpiPen prescription at the next doctor’s appointment.

After that frightening, very serious encounter with Tristan’s first obvious allergic reaction, I started doing a lot of research and came across many allergies that can trigger eczema such as: milk, gluten, soy, eggs, shell-fish, peas, sesame seeds, tomatoes, and corn. I found a GREAT book: Dealing with Food Allergies in Babies and Children by Janice Vickerstaff Joneja PhD RD. This book had very clear steps to follow in order to conduct a food elimination challenge for children with eczema. I was hooked and I was determined – food challenge, bring it on! For some reason I did everything recommended except eliminating gluten. Tristan loved bread and I just couldn’t face a gluten-free  future. After one month of the diet, Tristan’s skin was still terrible. It was obvious that we didn’t find all his food triggers through the diet, but we decided to reintroduce some of the food again and see if anything caused his eczema to flare more than it already was. Soy, corn, red bell peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, and tomatoes were obvious triggers, causing him to go into an instant itch trance. It was hard to say if these items aggravated his eczema, but they certainly made him scratch, which in turn certainly irritated his skin.

We started getting used to eating without the known triggers, plus we were still avoiding diary.  Tristan’s skin was still getting worse. When I asked for the advice of a local naturopath, she seemed surprised when I told her that we hadn’t eliminated gluten yet. She basically insisted we remove gluten as she was sure it would make a difference. Well, why not? We honestly were at rock bottom in terms of Tristan’s skin. Something had to change.  We removed gluten, very carefully reading labels. And low and behold within in a couple of days, Tristan’s skin was clearing up, and fast. It was unbelievable to see. However, we had started giving him some natural supplements – omega oils, probiotics, and homeopathy around the same time, so I wasn’t entirely sure removing the gluten was improving his skin so drastically. Three weeks later he got a hold of two small pieces of breakfast cereal containing gluten and within two hours his skin was horribly red and inflamed. So, he was officially gluten-free from that point on.

His skin was improving, but he’d still develop horrible itch attacks. Thank goodness for mittens like ScratchMeNots and pjs like Kumfy Cotton. We had already eliminated so much food from Tristan’s diet, what else could be bothering him? We had switched to soap nuts for laundry as anything else – natural or chemical, caused a gradual flair-up. We also moved to dishwashing detergent free of sodium lauryl sulfphate (aka formaldehyde).  He didn’t seem to have any traditional household allergies, like mold. So, what could be causing the itch? My mom reminded me that almonds drive her mad with itchiness. Almonds? No, couldn’t be. After all, removing almonds would be severely challenging since Tristan was consuming almonds in various formats throughout all day long – almond milk, almond butter, raw and roasted almonds. They were a great source of calcium and protein, but not knowing what else to do we stopped almonds for one week. And, wouldn’t you know it – the itching stopped completely.

At that point I was feeling bold and brave. So, after years of withholding milk, we tried to give Tristan some cow’s milk cheese to test for a casein reaction (cheese doesn’t have lactose). If he passed the casein test, lactose would be the next step. But he failed and failed miserably. He got red around the mouth after I gave him one small piece. He also got a little congested in his lungs and throat, but not bad. According to the book we had been following I was to give him two pieces a few hours later. About 30 minutes after the next two pieces of cheese Tristan started coughing intensely, said his stomach hurt, and developed hives on his body. His eczema flared-up after a few hours. No more cow’s milk products for him. I’d like to try goat some day, but that’s on hold for now.

Just a few weeks ago I posted about a recent visit to the allergist where Tristan underwent skin prick testing and a blood test. The doctor wanted to determine the severity of Tristan’s nut allergies. The skin prick test didn’t show walnuts this time, but hazelnuts instead. The blood test results haven’t come in yet, but we tested for hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds.

Every once in a while Tristan gets a little itchy, mostly after applying any sort of cream or oil to his skin. And he still has some patches of very mild eczema, but we are thrilled we’ve come so far. I’m sure there is something that is triggering the little bit of eczema he has, but I’ve yet to determine it. Our new dermatologist wants to have Tristan tested for a full range of foods via another blood test, so we’ll see where that brings us. But for now we’re in skin bliss.

Here’s a recap of Tristan’s triggers:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Soy
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Tomato (except low acid varieties)
  • Corn
  • Red Peppers – bell, spicy, etc.
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe

What triggers your child’s eczema or asthma? What food allergies do your children have?

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. When we did the skin prick test for our daughter at about 9 or 10 months, she reacted to dairy, wheat, eggs and cats the worst. Our allergist also recommended eliminating chicken and beef, because the proteins in those meats may be similar to the proteins in the egg and milk/dairy that she reacts to. Since I’m still nursing her (now at 17 months), I, too, am egg, wheat & dairy free. We’ve been a little lax about it lately (at least what I’m eating) and while she does still itch a little, it’s no where near what it was, and we’ve never had really horribly bad reactions other than the rash, thank goodness. Thank you for sharing your stories and recipes. It’s very inspiring and supportive.


    November 26, 2011
    • Hi Amie – So, interesting as I’ve never head about a possible connection to chicken/beef & egg/dairy, but it makes sense. That’s great news that you’ve been able to reduce your daughters reactions with her diet change. Thanks for sharing your story and I’m so happy you found the site! Jennifer


      November 27, 2011
  2. I just found this blog–I’m in a bit of a different position but I can totally relate! I’m 18 years old and finally old enough to take myself to a naturopath. My parents tried the whole elimination diet thing with me when I was a toddler, to little effect, but I’ve dealt with constant eczema (and constantly infected eczema, which sucks even more–the ER late at night for staph infections is awful awful awful) for so long now I’m fed up. I’ve been off wheat and dairy for a week now (maybe it should be gluten completely?) and my skin seems to be improving! Crossing my fingers.


    November 22, 2011
    • That’s exactly the two that were the worst eczema triggers for my son. He also reacts to soy and a few others, but dairy and wheat are the worst. It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s only been a week – do you miss any food yet? Would you like to share your story on my blog? I’d love your perspective of dealing with eczema as a child and what you remember of it all. Also, let me know if you’d like to join my blog hop! We’d love to have you. So happy you found the site! Jennifer


      November 24, 2011
      • It’s so hard! The thing I miss the most is ice cream I think…I like sorbet just fine but I haven’t found a good dairy-free replacement for rich creamy amazingness. I’d love to share my experience! What kind of thing do have in mind?


        November 29, 2011
      • Hi Kelsey – I’ve heard coconut bliss ice cream is great. Have you tried it yet? I’ll email you about guest blog. Jennifer


        November 30, 2011
  3. My daughter Sophie, has food allergies to tree-nuts, flax, sesame, melons, berries, chili peppers, eggs, dairy, all grains, pineapple and we both have celiac disease. She has asthma reaction to artificial fragrances (perfumes, scented laundry etc) and is allergic to dust mites, dust, dogs and grass. I just found your blog from a blog hop 🙂


    November 21, 2011
  4. Wow. I’m just in shock that they wouldn’t immediately prescribe an epi-pen for a nut allergy. You’d think they would just to cover their butts. I’m so glad that it didn’t get out of hand before you knew to insist on it! Go mama!


    November 15, 2011
    • I know! Knowing what I know now, I’m shocked too. Hey, do you want to join the blog hop? If so, I’ll add you. Let me know! Jennifer


      November 15, 2011
  5. Two of my daughters are allergic to beef, it makes their mouths itch. We have many foods that cause allergic reaction, but speaking strictly about eczema flare ups, wheat/gluten is the worst for both of them.


    November 9, 2011
    • Gluten is the worst for my son’s eczema as well. And interesting that beef is an allergen for your daughters too. Susan said the same and I’d never heard of a beef allergy before.


      November 9, 2011
  6. Hi Jennifer,

    When my eczema is flaring, peanuts definitely will definitely make it worse. My red rashes turn into huge swollen patches and I’m so itchy I can barely stay awake. Raw tomatoes are also a trigger, and for some reason they only seem to affect my hand, but cooked tomatoes are (mostly) fine. And thanks for adding me to your blog roll, I’m happily adding you to mine!


    November 9, 2011
    • Oh yes, peanuts seem to be a huge trigger for lots of people. My son has so many allergies, but funny enough (or not) peanuts are not one of them. So happy to come across your blog. You’re now on my blog roll and also in the blog hop. I’ll look forward to following you. -Jennifer


      November 9, 2011
  7. My eldest son is allergic to dairy,egg,beef,sesame,fish,shellfish,peanuts/tree nuts,raspberries and mustard. He suffered from eczema horribly as a child. Now as a 15 year old teenager his eczema has improved greatly. It is easier now to notice skin eruptions such as cantelope (he can eat it but not touch it as his hands get itchy and red), oranges (he liimited to 1-2 a day during clemantine season. His face flares up red if he starts eating too many. He take himself off them completely when he starts to eat too many and he sees how his skin is) Coca Cola (as a child he would have a small can as a a treat on a fri and sat with a movie, barely had much to treat him with, his skin would flare up the next day, finally we put it together that it was the coke. Soon as he stopped having it, skin never flared up the next day. We think it was the caramel in it as caramel
    can be derived from dairy. Even though coke denies it, I still encourage him to stay clear of it and caramel in general) You are doing a great job! I know how frustrating it can be! Susan H. @ the food allergy chronicles


    November 8, 2011
    • He has some really interesting allergies that aren’t so common, particularly beef (I wonder if it’s something added during processing – is it the same with organic)? And caramel – I didn’t know that it could be derived from milk. Very good to know! Thanks!


      November 8, 2011
      • In the past, we tried a few types of beef, all with the same results…too afraid to mess around with it, especially since his skin test comes back so positive. A friend of mine who’s son has a dairy allergy also stays clear of caramel at her allergist’s request. Believe me…I am constantly learning something!


        November 9, 2011
      • Always learning – I’m right there with you!


        November 9, 2011

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