Chicago mom sees son’s dairy allergy as an adventure

My son, Jaden, has always suffered from allergies and asthma. He was hospitalized when he was about three years old for extreme respiratory distress. Since his stay in the hospital, he has been carefully followed by an asthma and allergy doctor.

Between Jaden’s allergy shots, nebulizer, inhalers, nasal sprays and oral allergy medications, I think we single handedly keep the pharmacy in business. The pharmacist knows us by name.

His allergies are pretty much under control. He has a lot of outdoor and seasonal allergies so his medications really help with managing those allergies. His asthma doesn’t really flare up unless he is sick and luckily he can still run around and participate in gym class without a problem.

He had his tonsils and adenoids out a couple of years ago to help with his breathing.

Let me tell you, sometimes I feel terrible for my child. There’s nothing like watching your child struggle to breathe and suffer from a constant stuffy nose, puffy eyes and a cough, and not be able to do more for him.

Even though we are doing everything we can for him, he still suffers from bad nasal congestion and ear infections. His doctor decided to repeat his allergy testing to see if something else was preventing him from getting better.

Allergy testing is an easy process but uncomfortable. The nurse gave my son a tiny poke of each allergen. Luckily, he is used to his allergy shots so the tiny needle pricks didn’t bother him.

It was the itching from the allergens that bothered him the most.

After about a half hour the doctor checked each site where the allergen was injected. We already know that he has environmental allergies so he was tested for food allergies.

The main culprit was dairy. The doctor thinks the nasal congestion and ear infections might be a result of him being allergic to dairy. Besides dairy, his test came back positive for allergies to lemon, pineapple, watermelon, and lettuce.

Yes, lettuce. I asked the doctor if someone could really be allergic to lettuce. She said, “Well, your son is.” Touché, doctor, touché.

Even though, he tested positive for a dairy allergen, the doctor doesn’t immediately tell you that’s the cause of all the problems. Jaden must first complete a food challenge.

The food challenge consists of removing all dairy products completely from his diet for one week. After one week, you reintroduce dairy products three times a day for three days to see if his symptoms return. If they do, then we know a lot of his allergy problems may not be getting better because of the dairy consumption.

The catch is that he must be healthy to do the food challenge and when I took him to the doctor he had a cold. Then he got an ear infection and is currently on antibiotics for 14 days. Although, we haven’t technically started the food challenge, the doctor said to still remove all dairy from his diet until he gets better because dairy can cause congestion.

So, we are on week three of being dairy-free and once he’s off the antibiotic, we will start the official food challenge. Allergies are a lot of work.

Right when I found out Jaden was allergic to dairy my heart sank. No parent wants their child to have any kind of food allergy. It makes feeding them harder. It makes it harder for them at school, parties, friend’s house, restaurants, etc.

But it is manageable. You get used to it. You find a way. You make it work for you and your child.

Unfortunately, about 90 percent of Jaden’s diet was dairy. My child lived on macaroni and cheese, Greek yogurt, chocolate chip buttermilk pancakes, spaghetti with parmesan cheese, bagels with cream cheese, ice cream, etc.

I knew the switch to dairy-free would be difficult but something we could learn to do. Fortunately, we have always drank almond milk, so we just had to find a dairy-free cereal.

It’s so important to check labels because there is dairy in so many foods. The pancake mix my son loved had dairy. Bagels and breads have dairy. Cereal has dairy. Granola bars have dairy. Ice cream, pudding, mac and cheese, cream cheese, pretzels, yogurt, soups, cereal, oatmeal.

Dairy, dairy, dairy.

And dairy goes by many other names besides just “dairy.” I needed to check every food label for things like casein, caseinate, whey, lactose, lactoglobulin, lactalbumin and many more.

Fortunately, eggs do not fall into the dairy category. This is often a misconception that if you can’t eat dairy then you can’t eat eggs, but that is not true. It is true that some people are allergic to eggs but luckily Jaden is not one of them.

So, what does Jaden actually eat? That was the hard part. He is already picky as it is and having a dairy allergy made it that much harder.

His favorite breakfast is pancakes or waffles so I was able to find a dairy-free pancake mix and Enjoy Life makes wonderful dairy-free chocolate chips. Fruit is always great at breakfast as long as it isn’t pineapple or watermelon. Or cereal with almond or soy milk.

His snacks at school usually consist of Skinny Pop popcorn, crackers, apple slices or organic fruit snacks.

School lunches have been the biggest challenge. Normally, he would eat a mini bagel and cream cheese every day but without cream cheese, he won’t touch the bagel. I bought a Thermos and have been packing him noodles with dairy-free butter, hard boiled eggs, soup that doesn’t contain dairy, fruit, carrot sticks, jello, crackers, etc.

Dinners have also been a challenge too because Jaden isn’t a big meat eater. He’ll eat some chicken or a burger without cheese. He also likes orange chicken with brown rice or more noodles with dairy free butter.

Whole Foods sells an amazing dairy-free macaroni and cheese that he loves. It actually looks and tastes just like normal macaroni and cheese.

Having a child with food allergies can be tough and sometimes require a little extra time when planning meals, but it’s something that you get used to. It’s a great way to try new foods and see what your child likes.

There are tons of resources out there for people with food allergies. There are websites dedicated to listing brands that contain dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten, etc. There are websites with great recipes that don’t contain common food allergens. And some grocery stores, like Whole Foods, will even give you a tour of the store and help you learn about what foods are safe to eat.

In our house, we look at Jaden’s dairy allergy as a challenge and an adventure. We have fun trying out different dairy free ice creams and yogurts to see which one is the best. I have him help me look at food labels to see if a product contains dairy. I don’t ever try to make him feel deprived and I always try to find an alternative for him for special treats at school, birthdays and family gatherings.

Having a child with food allergies can be difficult at times, but you have to remember that you are doing what’s best for your child.

Do your children have any food allergies?

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