Our first born, Mason, arrived in 2012, and boy was he perfect. I know I’m biased, but I’m telling you he was the PERFECT baby. He never cried, he ate great and he slept through the night at nine weeks old (and has ever since). He would sit for hours and just play by himself, always laughing and smiling. The grandmas donned him the nickname “angel baby”. We put him in a toddler bed before he was two years old and he would ask permission to get down, no lie.
The day he had his first allergic reaction was just like any other day… after his second nap we loaded up the stroller to cruise around our subdivision for an afternoon walk.
I was chatting with my mom on the phone when Mason suddenly started to whine. My baby, who loved going for walks and never cried, was VERY agitated. I peeked under the canopy to see what was the matter and, “Mom, I have to go! Mason is having an allergic reaction!” CLICK.
My sweet little 10-month-old’s face was unrecognizable. His lips were puffy, his cheeks were beet red, his eyes were swollen shut, and he had snot and saliva streaming down to his chin.
OMG! Did you get stung by a bee? Did you eat something new? No time to think. RUN. Just run.
And seriously, I don’t run… I don’t even like to walk fast. I ran as fast as my 4’11” little legs would take me back to my house, all while shouting in a sweet mommy voice, “you’re okay! It’s okay!” to mask the sheer panic that consumed my body.
Fortunately, I had plenty of experience with allergies in my life (my brother has a fish allergy and when I was young I had an allergy to a preservative that put me into the emergency room 13 times). I knew what to do; we ran to the fridge and grabbed the Benadryl. I set him on the counter and looked him over. He was breathing okay and was just crying at this point, so I gave him 5 ML and called our pediatrician. The nurse told me that if he was not having difficulty breathing we did not need to call an ambulance but should drive to the hospital just to be safe.
I threw my baby boy in the car and sped to the emergency room, calling my husband on the way to let him know what was happening. But in all honesty, I had no idea what had happened.
Thankfully, we were immediately brought into triage where several nurses evaluated Mason. Still breathing okay, they all agreed it was fine for us to sit in the waiting room… which we did, of course, for several hours.
Here is a pic of my little man about 3 hours after I gave him the Benadryl.
By the time we were taken back to a room, Mason was almost back to normal. The doctors evaluated him quickly and said we were fine to leave. After I buckled him in, I slid into the front seat of my car and COMPLETELY LOST IT. Staying strong for my baby was hard, and all of that emotion I was holding in just poured out of me. Shaking and sobbing, I called my mom back, as I knew she would be worried. Everything was okay.
BUT WHAT IN THE WORLD JUST HAPPENED?
I replayed the afternoon over and over in my mind…
He woke up from his nap, I changed his diaper, he had a snack, we put on our sunscreen and we left.
He had a snack!
I had given him a small bowl of those cheddar Lil’ Crunchies for babies.
But it wasn’t a new snack? He’s had them before.
Fast forward a few days and we found ourselves at my allergist’s office with a can of cheddar Lil’ Crunchies for our first (and unfortunately not last) allergy test. (Side note: our allergist is fantastic. If you are local and want his information, please contact me). With just corn, dairy and a few preservatives in the ingredient list, we didn’t have much to test for. But we didn’t need much.
Allergy tests on children are usually performed on their backs, as there is more room to work with and less opportunity for little hands to get in the way. We were getting a food allergen skin prick test (SPT). I sat Mason in my lap, facing me – sort of in a straddling position – and wrapped my arms around his shoulders to hold him still. He wiggled a little as the nurse drew a grid on his back with an ink pen. There was one spot for corn, one for dairy, one for a positive histamine (to use as a guideline) and one for a negative control. Four quick pricks and he didn’t even flinch (I told you… ANGEL BABY).
And there it was… a pea-sized little welt. CORN.
“You’re going to need to remove all corn from his diet moving forward… here is a list of all derivatives of corn. You will have to be very careful; corn is in almost everything. You’re also going to need to carry an Epi-Pen around with you. Hopefully you won’t need it, but allergic reactions can sometimes get worse with each one. The good news is, children with corn allergies commonly outgrow them.”
From that moment on, my job as a mother changed forever. I had to start doing things the allergy way. I could no longer walk through the grocery store aisles and grab whatever I wanted, or buy whatever brand of food was on sale. EVERY LABEL HAD TO BE READ. I had a list of 20+ corn derivatives that I had to search for and avoid for the health of my child. And worst of all, corn is not part of the top allergens that the FDA requires to be listed out separately at the bottom of the ingredients (like Milk, Soy, Wheat, etc.), so I had to thoroughly read the ENTIRE list of ingredients for foods that we ate every day.
And I don’t just mean the obvious ingredients like corn flour, cornmeal, corn syrup and the like, but others that you would never think of, like powdered sugar for example. Who would have thought there was freaking corn in powdered sugar? Definitely not me. For Mason’s first birthday (because obviously all babies must have cake on their first birthdays), I tried to make my own powdered sugar by grinding down granulated sugar in a blender and adding potato starch instead of corn starch as a binder. My kitchen looked like a scene from Breaking Bad, but it was worth it.
Although Mason’s new food allergy was life altering, I will say that in time it did get easier. Once we determined the brands of food he could eat and found substitutes for our favorite recipes, we became used to it. And I’m happy to report that a few years later Mason outgrew his corn allergy, as our allergist thought he might.
Shortly thereafter, however, Mason developed an allergy to strawberries at the age of 3 1/2, we think. (I say we think because I’m not totally convinced food allergies were to blame). I won’t bore you with all of the details, but one summer afternoon he started breaking out in head-to-toe itchy hives that seemed to come on after he ate strawberries. They also seemed to come on after he was outside in the heat, so I believe they may have been heat hives, as they occurred again the following summer without eating any strawberries at all. Since he tested mildly positive for strawberries on another prick test, though, we are avoiding them for now.
Strawberries? Psh, that was easy. Especially compared to what was happening at the same time with The Soy One.
[Edit: Mason was retested for strawberry allergy at the University of Michigan (see It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over), which was negative, and has passed a strawberry food trial. He no longer has any food allergies!]