Parenting A Child With Food Allergies

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – no gifts required, no pretense, family, and lots of yummy food – so, of course, I was super excited about my daughter Vivienne’s first Thanksgiving in 2015. She was eight months old at the time and eating a variety of solid foods. Our family enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner, Vivi gobbled up lots of macaroni & cheese for the first time, and we were sitting around watching football, when Vivi projectile vomited.

Before this, she’d never had an ailment more serious than a minor cold, so I was worried, but assumed maybe the food was just too much for her tiny tummy. She went on to vomit 10 times in the span of 4 hours and began to get very lethargic and pale. We maintained contact with her pediatrician, and they attributed the vomiting to a stomach bug, but looking at my sweet girl, I had a feeling something else was wrong and headed to Weill Cornell Children’s Emergency Department. There, they gave her Zofran (an anti-nausea medicine), Pedialyte and monitored her, and magically, she was back to her normal self within a couple of hours. I was confused, but she seemed like her normal self, so I agreed to chalk the vomiting up to a stomach bug.

The next month, Vivi tried a new dish for dinner, was not a fan and only ate a couple of spoonfuls. And then it happened again - two hours after dinner, she projectile vomited, in a similar fashion to Thanksgiving. At this point, I felt like the two episodes were related and began researching. Thanks to the Internet and several mom blogs, I learned about FPIES – Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome – a rare food allergy that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and occurs in infants and children. The symptoms of an FPIES reaction include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and shock, and oddly enough, always occur after a delayed period of time (in Vivi’s case, 2 hours after ingestion). I realized that the only two times Vivi had ever had eggs she went on to have a severe vomiting reaction. I promptly scheduled an appointment with a Pediatric Allergist who confirmed my suspicions. Vivi has FPIES to egg.

FPIES is tricky because you cannot test for it through blood or skin tests, and many pediatricians are totally unfamiliar with it, but luckily it most often goes away as the child gets older. Vivi has since failed a food challenge for eggs at the allergist’s office, so we practice strict avoidance, and she will have another food challenge next fall.

When we visited the allergist, we also completed skin prick testing for lots of common allergens, and we learned that Vivi is allergic to bananas and pears. We were given a prescription for an EpiPen and promptly learned when and how to use it. Through trying many varieties of food at home and being vigilant in observing Vivi’s responses, we’ve learned it’s best for her to also avoid gluten and corn. If she eats gluten, her eczema flares up immediately – she develops itchy, red, scaly patches all over her body. While the doctors do not consider this a true allergy, we choose to avoid gluten. Also, when she eats corn, she develops stridor, a high-pitched breathing sound, for a week after ingestion.

Recently, we visited the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mt Sinai – We are SO lucky to have such great medical resources close by – and Vivi’s skin and blood test results had changed, and are now showing positive to cashews and walnuts, so we are adding those to the list of foods we must steer clear of.

Outside of Vivi’s food allergies, she’s a fun, happy (minus when she’s having a tantrum!) 18 month old. My family’s journey with food allergies is constantly evolving and I’m continuing to learn, but a few things that have helped us manage are:

  • Remember, you are not in this alone! There are countless Facebook groups dedicated to Food Allergy Moms. They provide immeasurable support, as well as guidance and information. The incidence of food allergies in children rose 50% between 1997 and 2011, and by 2020, 1 in 10 children are expected to have a food allergy.

  • Advocate for your child. When our Pediatrician refused to consider that Vivi had an ailment other than a minor stomach bug, I researched possible causes on my own and found a Pediatric Allergist that was familiar with FPIES.

  • Even if your child does not have food allergies, be considerate of those that do.

  • Focus on what your child CAN eat – Vivi eats so many different foods because we have to get creative with her meals to ensure she’s getting the proper nutrients, while avoiding her trigger foods.

As Vivi gets older, it’s my job to teach her self-management skills – to understand what her allergy triggers are, to not touch or eat anyone else’s food, and to let an adult know immediately if she thinks she may be having a reaction. I’m anxious and worried for the day that I have to send my baby into the world without me by her side to explain her allergies and monitor what she’s eating, but I think that with the right amount of prevention and preparedness, she will be able to learn, grow, and experience everything life has to offer!

Denise is originally from North Carolina, and lives in the Powerhouse Arts District of Jersey City with her husband, Jeremy, and their daughter, Vivienne. She works in sales for a consumer packaged goods company and enjoys cooking, traveling, and running in her free time.