I need help figuring out my baby's food allergies
January 18, 2009 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out my baby's food allergies! Symptoms: eczema, rash around mouth, itchy hives, and broken sleep. And I can't seem to keep a truly accurate track of her food.

So we finally figured out that our baby has some food allergies. Problem is, it's really hard to figure out what it is she's allergic to. (Or maybe I'm just stupid.) She's 1 yr old, just started on a little Zyrtec and a steroid cream for her bad patches, and here's what her diet's like now:

- soy formula (switched this week from milk-based)
- cheerios
- sweet potato, peas, carrots (cooked/soft), avocado, peaches, bananas, pears, some apple
- protein: beans, chicken (cooked, ground, and mixed with the sweet potato)
- blueberries (as of this morning)
- occasional corn products, like grits

- no dairy or pasta, in an attempt to get rid of wheat (yes, cheerios do have some wheat). No bread.

Just this week her bad patches went away and the rash on her cheeks disappeared. and yet she still had a mystery flareup. I wipe up the floor constantly to make sure she isn't picking up crumbs of other things, so I'm pretty sure the above is what she's eating.

Also: I'm trying to keep a record of everything she's eating, but it's really hard. I'm pregnant with #3 , potty training #1 (age 3), and trying to keep #2 happy with this diet (she was far more omnivorous before this week and is fussy off and on with this more limited diet. Because of her sleep issues -- which I hope can be solved with her diet -- I'm getting less than 5 hrs a night and have for a year. (I stay home, husband works, he's very helpful -- but we are both zombies.)

Her skin looks great this morning but was patchy and red yesterday. Nothing about her diet seems to have changed, though!
Does anyone have insight here? And is there a food tracker that I can post on the fridge? I sound like a whiner but I literally fall asleep on my feet these days. I lost my list of her food already this week.
posted by mdiskin to Food & Drink (31 answers total)
Can you have her allergies tested? Sorry only UK links came up for me...damn google.

I had it done and it had things I wouldn't have expected...feel loads better for avoiding it.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:56 AM on January 18, 2009

You say that you finally figured out that it is a food allergy, but do you mind telling us how you figured that out? I am not trying to be contrary, I just ask because I too had eczema and rashes as a child, and my parents went pretty nuts trying to figure out what my food allergy was. In reality, I had none. It was a condition that persisted through my teen years and eventually cleared up on it's own. Eczema is weird like that.
posted by piratebowling at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

On what basis do you think this is a food allergy? I had eczema for many years, starting as a baby, and in the end (after looking at every food under the sun) the culprit turned out to be "wool".
posted by Rumple at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: I would look at the avacado/banana connection. Are you using any latex products around her? Bottle nipples? Gloves? Diaper covers with latex bands?
posted by headspace at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2009


I almost died as a baby when my parents gave me ice cream and peanut butter but luckily they TOOK ME TO THE GODDAMN HOSPITAL where the doctors discovered that in addition to being super-allergic to milk products and peanuts, I was deathly allergic to fish and shellfish.

Testing foods out on your baby and then noting their reaction is not an appropriate medical diagnostic test. Do not "track the food." The hospital will refer you to an allergist (alternatively, you can call your GP right now and have them recommend an allergist), and you should go see the allergist immediately. They will probably give your child a few skin tests to see to what degree your child is allergic to a variety of foods. In addition, they may perform a RAST test which is a blood test they send off to the lab and is, apparently, more accurate and less than a skin test (not that the skin test is harmful - just sort of gives you a rash for awhile).

Bottom line: allergies kill people, especially little kids. You aren't a doctor. Rashes and hives are signs that the allergies could be getting worse. Don't jeopardize your child's health.

And, fyi, I'm allergic to a lot of things you mention in this list: sweet potato, peas, carrots (cooked/soft), avocado, peaches, bananas, pears, some apple - especially when those items are not cooked well. I can't handle raw potatoes and carrots but can eat them cooked. Avocados will straight up kill me cold. So will fish. But that's not to say that your child is allergic to those things - everybody is allergic to something different, and allergies can come and go. That's why food tracking is silly. In addition, I'm so allergic to some things that if, for instance, a piece of chicken touched a piece of fish, I'd have a reaction if I ate the chicken. As a parent you might think it was the chicken but really it was the fish.

Please, for your own comfort of mind and for the health of your child, get an allergy test immediately before the next flareup isn't a flareup but a severe and possibly lethal reaction.
posted by billysumday at 10:07 AM on January 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Could be the dairy, esp if most of the symptoms went away after the change.

Have you tried a food diary? Go buy a paper daily planner (they are really cheap now its the new year) and write down what and when she eats. It also is easy to take with you if you travel or eat out of the house.
Also write down any symptoms she might have in it. You should be able to see a pattern after a little while.

Other thoughts:
It could be your laundry detergent
When you wipe things down are you using a chemical cleaner? Maybe cut things like that out for a while also.

Good luck.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:12 AM on January 18, 2009

Given the timing, I think soy might be the culprit. I have experience with food introduction with my son, and a lot of experience growing up around people with baaaad allergies to lots foods. If it were me, I'd eliminate the soy and the corn (and then cheerios, then apples in that order if nothing changes) and see what that gets you.

Realistically though, I would also give it another week or two before I made any changes. You might just be seeing stuff still in her system. I think there's a tendency to rapidly over- and under-correct for allergies--which leaves you knowing less than you did before because you're so reactive instead of giving the system time to even out.

Symptomatically, it sounds like focusing on her sleep will be the most useful thing to do. Is she waking because of itching? If so, try to manage that so you can all get some sleep. OTC steroids or antihistamines might help, but they have their own side effects you might have to sort through. Swaddling a 1yo wouldn't be out of the question for me if the itching--and sleep--were really bad, but I don't know the extent of your problem.

And yeah, save yourselves some sanity by getting her tested if possible. The test is called a RAST test and they can and will do it on infants.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:16 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: A few more things:

Eczema is one thing, but a rash around the mouth and "itchy hives" seem to indicate food allergies. It's possible that your child is actually allergic to latex or wool or metal or a kind of laundry detergent or something but I think food allergies is much more likely. Ultimately you won't know until you get the food allergies tested - if the test comes back and your child is not allergic to any foods, then you can get environmental tests and you can start to keep track of the things your child comes into contact with that makes her irritated.

As suspected, everybody is allergic to something different and believes that you should start reducing different foods from her diet in a different order. We're just people on the internet. We really can't help you. You need to go to a doctor.

And if you have any apprehension about going to see an allergist, I have to say that all of the ones I've seen are really cool and because they deal with a lot of kids, they are used to doing tests on little babies and are very nice and friendly. They realize all the questions you have and can really put your mind at ease by giving you things to look out for and suggesting specific foods or diets for kids that have bad allergies. Plus, I'm pretty sure that the tests are (relatively) cheap and should be covered by pretty much every kind of health insurance. So it's not a money issue. And even if it was, you would still save yourself a ton of time and energy by not having to worry about what foods your daughter may be allergic to.
posted by billysumday at 10:23 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: billysumday: no need to curse, please, but I should have mentioned that this is already under my excellent pediatrician's supervision and orders. The baby's itchy-scratchy issues are not anaphylactic. I keep her away from peanuts, honey, and other allergic culprits like strawberries and oranges, etc.

I'm pulling back and simplifying her food because it's the most likely culprit given the symptoms, which start with a bright red rash around her mouth, then the skin issues. Again, I'm doing what my doctor tells me, and I'm not using my baby as a guinea pig. But the usual rule is to simplify diet and add one thing at a time to see if there is a reaction to any one thing (still keeping away from the major allergens). This is seen as a precursor to a battery of blood tests. I'm not saying that we won't go there eventually, but since her symptoms are not life-threatening, there's no need to go all HazMat straight out of the gate.

To everyone else: I don't use heavy-duty cleaners at all around the house unless there's a nasty toilet/sink issue. All my cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, etc are about as natural/green as it gets. I clean but don't overclean.

I know that bathing and soap issues can exacerbate eczema, but (again, per doc) we are bathing her infrequently, quickly, and using either just plain water or a little Eucerin bathing gel, which he recommended.

headspace, thanks for the banana/avocado link! I do have rubber gloves for washing dishes but I'm pretty sure that's all the latex around here. But I'll keep an eye on it. She last had banana and avocado on Monday. Her symptoms flared up on overnight Thursday/Friday.

Many thanks to everyone, and if anyone has more ideas, please let me know.
posted by mdiskin at 10:36 AM on January 18, 2009

I'm not saying that we won't go there eventually, but since her symptoms are not life-threatening, there's no need to go all HazMat straight out of the gate.

My point is that her symptoms aren't life-threatening because you haven't yet fed her that thing that is life-threatening. Not gonna apologize for cursing. There's just no need to put a baby through the trauma of constant pain and discomfort when a simple skin or blood test would solve all of these questions immediately.
posted by billysumday at 10:41 AM on January 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: billysumday: "you haven't yet fed her that thing that is life-threatening" is... an incredibly broad statement that holds true for anyone, at anytime, and is not helpful to my question here. What I'm doing is re-introducing the simple foods that she's already been eating, one at a time. Via the advice of my pediatrician, who is one of the best in our large city. If the baby still flares up and we can't figure it out in this fashion in a week or 2, believe me, I'm headed to an allergy specialist.

I really, really appreciate your advice. But I think your own allergy case -- and I sympathize with you, as it sounds awful -- is coloring your rationale a bit and causing you to make huge assumptions about her state. Again, she isn't in constant pain and is happy as a clam -- the cortisone cream cleared up her hives almost immediately, and she only showed a rashy flareup a few days ago. Actually, her skin looks almost back to normal today.

My main point in asking this question is that timing of allergen>>reaction is iffy, according to the doctors and nurses I've spoken with so far. They also said that even the major tests can have many false positives or false negatives. They advised us to go this route first.
posted by mdiskin at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2009

Point taken. I just think you'd be 100X happier and more content getting a test and knowing exactly what it is that your daughter is allergic to. It's also true that people who are mildly allergic to some things tend to also have a few really bad allergies, so the fact that your daughter has already expressed a reaction to certain things leads me wonder whether she has even more significant allergies coming down the pike with foods that have not yet been introduced. You say this is keeping you up, you can't get sleep, it's bothering you - why not request a test and just give yourself some peace of mind?

I'll go ahead and take my question off the air.....
posted by billysumday at 11:10 AM on January 18, 2009

They also said that even the major tests can have many false positives or false negatives. They advised us to go this route first.

I've heard this about RAST tests but skin tests are quite conclusive.
posted by billysumday at 11:12 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: It might take some time to get an appointment with an allergist, so maybe you should make the appointment now for a few weeks later and then cancel it if you feel it is not needed later.

And is there a food tracker that I can post on the fridge?

I'm not sure what you want that a piece of paper and a pen won't do. Maybe having it on a clipboard would be helpful. Writing down what you are about to feed your child before you feed her would be more fail-safe, as you probably won't fall asleep between writing it down and feeding.
posted by grouse at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: bsd -- no need to bow out! You're being helpful in many ways. My worry about the tests is that they seem to be pretty invasive to a little squirt -- more blood drawn than I thought (3 vials, which is a lot for a baby). My baby is also VERY active. It would take 3 of us to hold her down, at least. She's nearly one but the size of a hearty 2-year old.

So I'm all for getting her tested, but it sounds more traumatic than another week of itchiness, which I can mostly manage with creams. If you can tell me more about this (the testing), I'd greatly appreciate it. I did talk to a friend whose kid had huge allergy issues. She told me about the tests he had to endure and it sounded just awful.

Add that to the false neg/pos blood test results, which seem to have a wide margin of error, and that's why I'm trying to take this more simple, less invasive route first.

If anyone has experience with RAST or other testing, I'd like to hear what your or your kid's experience was like.
posted by mdiskin at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2009

It really pains me to think of another child being raised to be afraid of food, when from what you have said, there is no clear indication that this is a food allergy. Food allergies are rare, and while that does not mean that your child does not have one, it does mean that chances are good that she does not.

A few things to read before you strike yet more foods off a list that now includes peanuts, honey, strawberries, oranges (and perhaps avocados and bananas now):

Everyone's gone nuts


Food allergies blamed rashly
posted by yellowcandy at 11:21 AM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: Yellowcandy, thanks for the alternative viewpoints (I could only read the Australian news link). The Australian piece seems to be more about fringe eaters who restrict their diets far more than I'm doing. I'm giving my baby typical finger foods, a variety of them.

The case for a food allergy (or perhaps "sensitivity" is a better term) seems to be borne out by the primary symptom: red rash around the mouth after eating. She still eats with her fingers (no spoon) so I'm assuming it's the food itself, not any utensils. She uses the same bottle she's been using for ages (with no prior issues until she started eating finger foods).
posted by mdiskin at 11:38 AM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: I should also mention that we eat loads of peanut butter, strawberries, etc at our house. But I'm not giving it to the baby, since doctors recommend slow introduction of foods that tend to be higher on the allergic reaction scale.

I'm not raising *anyone* at our house to be "afraid of food" in general or even of any one food (did I mention that I am also a food writer, among other things?). But I want to get to the bottom of this scratching. Prodding the diet makes sense.
posted by mdiskin at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2009

mdiskin, I know you are wary of having her tested, but those kinds of reactions at that young age I think absolutely warrant getting allergy testing done. She sounds big enough and heathly enough to withstand the blood draw. Both my husband and I have some food allergies, and my husband had a number as a child, including most tree nuts, and eggs (which he fortunately outgrew). It was very reassuring for his mother to know exactly what he tested positive for, and made introducing new foods less of a crap shoot.
posted by gudrun at 11:57 AM on January 18, 2009

Testing her is your best option. It will be easier on you both if you just get it over with.
posted by batmonkey at 12:09 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My worry about the tests is that they seem to be pretty invasive to a little squirt -- more blood drawn than I thought (3 vials, which is a lot for a baby). My baby is also VERY active. It would take 3 of us to hold her down, at least. She's nearly one but the size of a hearty 2-year old.

When I was 18 months, I had a skin test on my back - 72 separate proteins were tested. It was intense for my parents, I guess, but I don't remember it. I had it performed again when I was 6 and clearly DO remember hating it - what they do is sort of burrow a little bit of whatever it is they are trying to test under the subject's skin (random pic of kid post-test). Feels like they're scooping out little spoonfuls on skin. However, as I got older my tests got smaller to the point where they performed the tests on my arm (random pic of forearm test), which was much more preferable. Perhaps the doctors could do a forearm test for only a few substances, the big ones, to see if there are any food allergies, then a more comprehensive test later. I also had a RAST test as an adult and, as it was only giving blood, I liked it a lot more. With a baby, I can see how that might be problematic on the one hand (lot of blood for just an itty bitty baby) and beneficial on the other hand (no itching, scratching, irritation, hives, or other lasting discomfort).

I don't think my parents enjoyed watching me get tested and having to rub lotion on my back for a week afterward as the hives slowly went away - but I also know they were eternally grateful to the doctors who conclusively determined and showed to my parents what the effects of certain foods would do to me if I ever ingested them.

The important thing is you're talking with your pediatrician, which wasn't mentioned in your OP and I'm glad to learn is something you're on top of.
posted by billysumday at 12:13 PM on January 18, 2009

I get a rash around my mouth from toothpastes with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Could it be her toothpaste?
posted by tinamonster at 12:17 PM on January 18, 2009

i used to work for an allergist who did a lot of the skin tests ('scratch tests') on little kids. It doesn't bother adults so much but kids HATE it- especially because once the initial test is done the positive tests get red and itchy, plus there's always a positive histamine control that itches really bad. It looks about like a bunch of bug bites, but of course the kid can't touch or itch them because that would screw up the test.
I would say the blood draw would be less annoying for you (especially if your other kids are going to have to come with you to the dr's office- holy crap!) If your kid is big and healthy she'll make up for the blood taken in no time.
posted by genmonster at 12:27 PM on January 18, 2009

What you describe is a baby in constant discomfort. Get the skin test, after which you can apply all the creams and ointments you wish.

Food is not the only allergen out there, just the trendy one these days. What about dust mites, mold and ragweed, why don't they get any love any more?

Also, seek a second opinion from another pediatrician. Your pediatrician sounds like he's forgotten about the wide world of allergens for whatever reason. In the meantime get an appointment with an allergist.

Articles that scare parents about foods that cause allergies in a small number of children aren't going to get you any closer to an answer. You've already tried keeping track of foods and it's not working out for you for whatever reason. That's ok. You've done all you can on your own food allergen sleuthing, so have the uncomfortable child tested.
posted by vincele at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Other than foods that are going directly into her mouth, can you think of anything that's going into her mouth via her hands? Either through just having X on her hands or X being a component of a toy she's sticking in her mouth, playing with your toothbrush, anything like that?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2009

Dairy would be my first instinct. Is cheese part of her diet? That might explain the phantom flare up if you eliminated milk formula.
posted by mazienh at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2009

Mod note: Sort of going off the rails a bit here, a few comments removed. Snarking back and forth about eating disorders is pretty far from answering the question, so please take it elsewhere.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:09 PM on January 18, 2009

Do you have pets? Possibly your daughter is allergic to them? Furry animals was the thing I was most allergic to as a child.
Are you still nursing? Many culprit food allergies are passed through breastmilk too, esp dairy. Solving that would mean you would have to go on an elimination diet as well.
Seconding Vincele, maybe its pollen/dust/mold and not food? Although that's impossible to tell/eliminate without a test of course.
If she is allergic to dairy, it often goes hand-in-hand with an allergy to soy, so watch out for that if you decide dairy plays any part in this.
Your food list sounds very wholesome and simple, but if there are any processed foods that she sometimes eat (like goldfish, crackers etc) then check them for hidden dairy too.
Did you do an elimination diet, or are just cutting out one thing and then reintroducing it to look for changes?

There are some great child food allergy groups on yahoogroups that may be able to help you out a lot, I don't have the name of the one I was recommended handy, but I will post back if I can find it.
posted by Joh at 4:50 PM on January 18, 2009

If anyone has experience with RAST or other testing, I'd like to hear what your or your kid's experience was like.

My son had the RAST test about 2 years ago, when he was about 1yo. Yup, about three vials if I remember correctly. I held him still with another nurse and it wasn't difficult, mostly because I believed the test was worth it: constrained he would be. I saw my brother grow up with eczema and life-threatening allergies. Believe me, 10 minutes of squirming is a lot better than a week of itching. The initial needle prick is the worst, then it's just the squirminess of a kid who wants to escape. By no means did it seem painful for the entire draw.

As for keeping a food record, does your cell phone have a camera? Take a picture of each meal. It should note the date and time automatically, and you can then review at the end of the week.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:16 PM on January 18, 2009

when my daughter suffered from skin rash etc due to allergies, the doctor mentioned the proteins in soy formula are pretty much the same as in milk. There are hypoallergenic formulas that do not have the same protein you may want to look into. They STINK!!

We did the testing that people speak of, but at this young age they will probably not want to run the whole spectrum on your child. We only did what we suspected. The peanut spot flared badly and i then learned it is possible to do a blood test to know exactly how allergic your chld is to a substance

My daughter tolerated no fragrances in anything that touched her skin. Even natural fragrance was a problem.

She is much better now and i will say it is easier to keep the rash at bay then it is to get rid of it once it starts.
posted by domino at 6:06 PM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: I think I figured it out: baby was getting my toddler's milk sippy cup out of her room and playing with it! No more rash, hives, etc.

Thanks all, and thanks cocoagirl for the phonel-pic idea.
posted by mdiskin at 6:46 PM on January 23, 2009

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