No parent needs to discover that their infant has a potentially severe nut allergy while having their first birthday celebratory cake. In 2016, that’s where we found ourselves. I had family visiting, who don’t eat eggs, so I made a vegan cake made of cashews and walnuts. After her first bite in, my daughter started breaking out in a rash and then came the vomiting. My husband and cousins rushed out to get Benadryl. We were able to get it under control, but we were terrified.
We immediately made an appointment to see the pediatrician, who feared a nut allergy and referred us to a well-known allergist in Arlington. Neither of us had a family history, and I ate lots of nuts in pregnancy and postpartum, so it came as a surprise.
After skin pricks and blood tests that left all of us drained, it confirmed our fear and worse. My daughter was allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, eggs, and sesame seeds. We were devastated, fearful for her wellbeing, and worried how we would maintain a vegetarian diet or normal life, being Indian, with so many dietary restrictions. The allergist urged us to avoid everything, and so we did, for several months. At this point, however, even avoiding those things, she was throwing up several times a week. Our pediatrician suspected acid reflux, so she was on Zantac for six months.
On a visit to my Indian family, my daughter had wheat bread with 0 reaction. This made us question the validity of the tests. She was vomiting when not having allergens and not vomiting when she did have an allergen. We then learned about false positives. We started reintroducing wheat, eggs, sesame seeds with positive results. I did more research and left the allergist, who was too conservative and cocky for our liking. It didn’t matter what board she was on or her reputation, if our goals of helping our daughter to overcome her allergy were not shared.
I found another pediatrician in Arlington, Dr. Nithya Swamy. She changed our trajectory. We went from being told to avoid everything and not even have allergens in our home to doing annual blood tests and periodic food challenges in her office, when the blood levels testing for that nut were low enough. Yes, that meant annual blood tests for a toddler, which sucked, but the window for overcoming food allergies closes around age 5, and we were determined to do what we could to avoid living in fear and limiting where we went and what we did as a family.
In 2017, we participated in the food challenges every 4-6 months. My daughter passed her first one, almonds, and I remember doing the happy dance in the hallway with my husband! Almond butter became a staple in our home to make sure she was desensitized to it. Over three years, she has passed some challenges and failed others, which was disappointing. Now she can have almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts (we did this food challenge at home due to Covid-19).
She has failed walnuts twice and her levels for cashews, pistachios, and peanuts are higher than desirable for a food challenge. We have only had to use the epipen once and that was in the allergist’s office. Every year, her numbers are coming down, so we will continue down this path.
In the summer of 2019, my cousin, who had a severe wheat allergy to certain take-out pizza brands, often requiring hospital visits, said he had had luck with homeopathy. He worked with a doctor in India, and, just after 1 month of medication, he was able to have wheat again. 1 month!
We had been using homeopathy, but I had no idea it could help with food allergies. I contacted the doctor right away, who started my daughter on a regimen that would take many months.
Just weeks after starting, her car sickness and occasional vomiting disappeared. She hasn’t vomited in one year!
In 2020, we started working with local homeopathic doctors. One provided a remedy that was like the Benadryl of homeopathy, and it truly has been. When she has an allergic reaction that is not life threatening, Apis is what I give her. Symptoms are gone in minutes. Why don’t more people know about this?
We will continue homeopathy and food challenges until my daughter has overcome some, if not all, of her food allergies. In the meantime, we rest assured that, if she has a reaction, it won’t be life threatening.
I urge parents who have a child with a food allergy to find a provider that you like, be open to exploring unfamiliar treatments, and be aggressive. Our allergist shared that having peanut free environments can often exacerbate the problem and exposure can often help.
While I continue to help my daughter overcome her nut allergy, I still wonder how she developed it in the first place.
Why have food allergies increased exponentially in the last twenty years? Contaminated food and water? Why are nut allergies less common in other countries? Can introducing nuts earlier than 1 year (what was arbitrarily recommended by the AAP) prevent an allergy? Why have homeopathy doctors mentioned a connection to the MMR vaccine?
Finding the cause may unlock the answers to our growing food allergy epidemic in the America.