Allergy Awareness Week 2014

Monday 12th of May 2014  |  Category: Opinion  |  Written by: Susan Thira

Finally. My chest feels less heavy, my heart slightly less burdened and I can feel the tempering warmth of hope on the horizon. My son (who is now 10 months old) has finally been to see the paediatric allergy specialist. He has a cow's milk protein allergy.

Most people wouldn’t be so happy to discover their son had an allergy. But all I can do is be happy that finally there is a chance his reflux, frequent night waking and stomach pains will stop. The ‘what if’ factor has gone, it’s not just reflux, it’s not just normal baby behaviour. Don’t fob me off anymore doctor, friends and family. I am not crazy or complaining too much. It’s an allergy. It’s real. It’s not in my head and it’s not normal! As my paediatrician said, it is shocking how reflux and cow’s milk allergy is not understood. Yes, most babies have a little reflux, spitting up after feeds for the first few months, which is normal - I’m not arguing with that. But only a mother with a baby with reflux, silent reflux or GERD will know how truly gruelling and gut wrenching it is to see your baby in so much pain and discomfort. Only a mother (or father) with a baby with an allergy will tell you how scary it is when you have to triple check everything you feed your baby and worry he/she may suddenly have breathing difficulties or some other reaction.

As much as it breaks my heart that my son may never get to eat some of the things most children have like ice cream and cheese and there will always be label reading to check for allergens, at least for now, I can cut out all dairy from his diet and my diet (I’m breastfeeding). Then maybe, just maybe, he can sleep peacefully and deeply at night and not have constant stomach cramps and reflux as soon as I lay him down. Maybe he will sleep more than 2 hours at a time, maybe he will finally get to sleep in his cot. Maybe I will finally get to sleep!

I am happy for him. I am. I am feeling optimistic that things can only get better from here. Many children outgrow their allergies by the age of 3. I live in hope.

Then there is the guilt. Is it my fault he has an allergy? Was it my diet when I was pregnant? Am I eating the wrong foods now I’m breastfeeding? Do I eat too much Dairy? Was it something I exposed myself to? Was it because he wouldn’t latch on the first week he was born? Was it the antibiotics I took when I got mastitis? Is my house too clean that my baby has a weak immune system? It’s crazy how much us mothers blame ourselves!

The world of allergies is scary, where do I begin?

If you are like me, and you’ve found out your child has an allergy then start firstly, by taking a deep breath, stop blaming yourself and then start doing some research. They probably weren’t caused by something you did during pregnancy, but are because of genetics (someone in your family has an allergic/atopic condition), and because of the environment around you (our houses are a lot cleaner now than they used to be and our immune systems mistakenly react to harmless allergens). Allergies are increasingly common, Allergy UK states that 50% of children in the UK have some kind of allergy. Most allergies are manageable. If it is a serious allergy then there people and organisations out there that can help you. There are more and more resources available for recipe ideas for people living with allergies.

My top tips for when you’ve just found out your child has an allergy:

  1. If you are breastfeeding cut out everything that your child has a reaction to from your diet. Do it as soon as possible. Studies have shown that the shorter exposure a baby has to the allergen the quicker they are to overcome the allergy. If you are formula feeding then change to a hypoallergenic milk if your child has CMA.
  2. Trust your instincts. My son is allergic to milk, but I also suspect he is sensitive to wheat or gluten or nuts. So I am also cutting out these things to see if his symptoms get better. 50% of children with a cow’s milk allergy are also sensitive to other allergens. Get a skin prick test and/or RAST test to find out if your child is allergic to anything else.
  3. See a specialist. Kick up a fuss until you are referred or find a private clinic. My GP was terrible and told me my son’s reflux was normal and he would grow out of it. When I went to see the specialist (after 7.5 months of hell) he couldn’t get over the lack of support and bad advice I received from my GP and Health Visitors. He was also shocked that they had all missed a clear case of a cow’s milk allergy.
  4. Introduce new foods slowly. Especially dairy products, wheat, egg, fish and nuts.
  5. Join a support group. There are various groups on Facebook, Babycentre, National Networks such as Allergy UK and blogs focusing on allergy advice.
  6. Spend time researching alternative things to eat. There are plenty of alternatives to dairy products such as oat, coconut and almond milk, vegetable oil spreads, vegan cheeses, coconut yoghurts and ice cream. You and your child do not have to go without. You can even get dairy free chocolate!
  7. Spread the word! Allergies need to be understood more widely! With so many people being affected by allergies these days it is ridiculous that GPs, Health Advisors, parents, restaurants and food stores are not more knowledgeable about allergies. The more knowledgeable people are the quicker allergies can be treated. The more people know about allergies the more services and products can become available. Only a fraction of restaurants can cater to people with allergies.  Education is key (and the 2014 changes to the National Curriculum should reflect this. There will be a greater emphasis on health and nutrition, but this should also include awareness on allergies in a positive light) so help spread the word.

It is allergy awareness week from the 11-17 May 2014. For more information please see the FARE website.

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