My daughter Clara, as an infant, swelled into a bawling tomato the first time I fed her scrambled eggs. Worried that her airways would constrict, we called emergency services. It was one of the scariest moments of my life—and from what I hear on the playground and at school pick up, it is an experience that has become shockingly common place. Today, nearly 6 million kids in the United States and 1 million in the United Kingdom have food allergies.
Skin-prick and blood testing found that in addition to Clara's egg allergy, she had life-threatening nut allergies. (Egg allergy is actually a risk factor for nut allergies.) We were told she'd have to be extremely careful for the rest of her life. We put an EpiPen in every purse and bag, scoured food labels, scrupulously kept most nuts out of the house and warned friends, family, baby sitters and nursery teachers, repeatedly, and especially before going to their houses, that our precious toddler was likely to die on their floor if they did not keep nuts—and nut products like Nutella, marzipan, granola, pesto, many cakes, chocolates and cookies—out of her reach. It did not make us very popular, and I worried all the stress would lead to psychological feeding and eating issues. But it was worth Clara's safety.
Fortunately, our approach to Clara's allergies did not stop with simple avoidance. In addition to the antihistamines and EpiPen prescriptions, our allergist, medical researcher Professor Gideon Lack, also had some unusual advice on how to feed Clara.
Dear reader, he said to give her a daily dose of nuts and eggs!
Okay, not the nuts she was allergic to (almond, cashew, pistachio, macadamia, Brazil and hazelnut) but the types of nut that had been deemed safe by skin prick and blood tests (pine nut, peanut, pecan and walnut).
And we were to give her one 20th of an egg. I must have looked at him bug-eyed when he said this, as I imagined carefully measuring and dissecting an omelet and coaxing a tiny spoonful down my daughter's throat.
No, he shook his head as if he had seen my expression on the face of one mother too many. We were to make a cake using only one egg and give her one 20th of it. Every day. After a month or so, we were to put two eggs in the cake and then three. A daily slice of cake on doctor's orders?! Clara was in heaven.
PLEASE NOTE:At this time, allergy desensitization, to be done safely, requires intense hands-on help from a doctor. Do not "go it alone" if your child has major food allergies. Approach a doctor as soon as possible about desensitization through oral immunotherapy, especially if the child is allergic to dairy or egg. The younger your child, the more likely the treatment will work, but even then, it won’t work for everyone.
We followed Dr. Lack's instructions to the letter and, today, at 4 years old, Clara no longer has food allergies. While, true, the egg allergy may have resolved itself eventually no matter, as many kids grow out of egg allergy, the eggy cake slices she ate likely accelerated this resolution significantly.
As for her multiple nut allergies, we were originally told, they would be with her for life, as it is unusual for kids to "outgrow" allergies to nuts. It is not conclusively known but it may have been the daily exposure to her four safe nuts that helped resolve these other six allergies, by teaching her immune system that nuts aren't bad after all. When her infant brothers started breaking out in hives after eating eggs, we followed Dr. Lack's advice again. Today, with three young children, my house is allergy-free.
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