In "The Thriving Child," Erica Reid spells out simply, healthy ways to ease your kids through allergies, asthma and other environmental sensitivities. Here's an excerpt.
Chapter 1: Children Living with Food Allergies and Asthma
For any parent, I think you must first be well-informed before you speak to your child about his or her food allergies. I think the key, as it is in any other life lesson, is to be truthful, calm, and clear about the subject. Don’t sugarcoat it, but at the same time teach your child that their food allergy is manageable, that they can successfully take the responsibility to be mindful and cautious, and that they don’t have to live their life in fear. Knowledge is always power. There is no reason for a child with food allergies to feel left out or odd. They need to know what will hurt them and that they can live a full, normal life.
—Lori Stokes, mother of two
I will never forget the day my son was lying sick on the bathroom floor. Usually filled with boundless energy, twenty-two-month-old Addison was wrapped in a towel, his body limp and lethargic. His normally sparkling eyes, full of life, looked weak, and his typically glowing complexion was dull and pale. He was wiped out. I knew something was wrong. Really wrong. This wasn’t a little cold or the latest bug going around. Addison’s immune system was trying to fight something. My child’s sick. Really sick, I thought as adrenaline raced through my body. Just moments earlier he’d been coughing, a deep, persistent cough that sounded like it was being caused by phlegm in his chest. I had turned on the shower and sat with him in the bathroom encouraging him to inhale the steam that surrounded us. I thought this would help break up the phlegm. But five minutes later, his cough was as deep as ever. Actually, it was worse, so I felt I’d made a mistake with the steam. I knew it was time to call our pediatrician.
“Bring him in,” she said before I’d finished describing his symptoms.
I strapped Addison into his stroller and dashed the seven blocks to the doctor’s office. (We live in New York City, where we walk and cab it every- where.) I’d never moved down the street that fast in my life.
“He may have pneumonia,” the pediatrician said after listening to Addison’s chest. “Let’s get a chest X-ray.”
“An X-ray?” I asked.
“There’s no other way to find out,” she said. I hesitantly agreed. Then I strapped Addison in the stroller once again, left the pediatrician’s office, and ran another seven blocks to the radiologist’s office for the X-ray.
Before allowing Addison to sit on my lap, the X-ray technician diligently covered me with a heavy padded smock that went from my shoulders to the tops of my thighs. But nothing was used to protect my little boy. This made me feel uneasy. If they’re protecting me so carefully and I’m an adult, isn’t all that radiation dangerous for his body? I thought. But I had no choice and, like always, coached myself through it. This is happening for a reason. I don’t know why, but one day I will. (Maybe it was to share my journey by writing this book.)
The X-ray confirmed my pediatrician’s suspicion: Addison had pneumonia. “I’ll call the drugstore with a prescription for an antibiotic,” she said. I was amazed. My son wasn’t even two years old and he was going from radiation exposure to getting his first antibiotic—a medication you’re always told to use as infrequently as possible. Little did I know that this was the first of many antibiotics he’d be prescribed, and upper respiratory problems he’d have, and that I’d just taken my first step on an unexpected journey—because although Addison did get better, the condition was never healed; the antibiotics were only a temporary fix, and the root cause of the problem was never addressed.
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For the next year, Addison and I were in and out of different doctors’ offices. He was having recurrent upper respiratory infections, and I was always told that it was bronchitis and that he had to have an antibiotic. This was not only frustrating, but upsetting and nerve-racking; I didn’t like having to give him antibiotics so frequently and at such a young age. Aside from the fact that all these doctors’ appointments were time-consuming, it was frustrating to have to share Addison’s health history over and over again each time we saw a new doctor. One visit to a pulmonologist really stands out for me.
“He definitely has asthma,” the doctor said after taking a family history. “Take this prescription and fill it immediately.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“A nebulizer with a steroid,” she said nonchalantly. It didn’t feel as if her diagnosis and remedy were specifically for my child, but more robotic, automatic. She was doing exactly what she’d done with the patients who came in before my son, and would do the same with those who came after. Yes, I was prepared to hear that medication was the answer, but steroids? For a child who was under the age of two? I glanced over at my son, who was on the floor coloring. The thought of strapping a mask on his head and letting him inhale steroids into his tiny body was heartbreaking. Was this really the only way to help him? There was no other option here? This was a child who needed to build up his immune system, not fill it with chemicals.
“Come back in four weeks,” the doctor said briskly, as if trying to wrap things up and move on to the next patient as fast as possible. No way, I thought. Something firm inside me was saying to her, Your words are going in one ear and out the other. And nothing you suggest is going into my son’s body! I felt stubborn (more so than my usual stubborn self ).
After this, a friend recommended that we see a well-known allergist at one of New York City’s most prestigious hospitals. He was so busy that at that particular time there was a three-month wait to get an appointment with him. I was looking forward to meeting him, thinking this man with such a huge reputation would be able to help me find some answers.
When we finally got around to seeing him, he did some routine tests, including a skin test for some of the most common allergies such as peanuts, eggs, chocolate, and dairy. His conclusion? “For now, your son won’t be able to do anything physical outside without two puffs of an albuterol inhaler every day,” he said.
Albuterol is a medication that warns of asthma-related death on its label, so I wasn’t particularly thrilled at this suggestion. I was also nervous because I recalled that the sister of supermodel Niki Taylor had lost her life after using an inhaler for her asthma. I didn’t know the details of the story or if the inhaler was the official cause of death, but that tragic story stood out in my mind and raised a red flag for me.
Next, the doctor handed me a stack of prescriptions: one for the inhaler, one for a nebulizer, a third for steroids, and the last for an EpiPen, an inject- able device that contains the drug epinephrine, which he said Addison couldn’t leave home without.
“Why an EpiPen?” I asked.
“Your son is highly allergic to eggs.”
“But he eats eggs and he’s fine,” I protested. Addison had never had an allergic reaction to eggs, and certainly not the hives, shortness of breath, or swollen lips that would have warranted the use of an EpiPen.
“He’s highly allergic,” the doctor repeated, an air of frustration in his voice. “His tests revealed that he’s allergic to egg.”
I continued trying to convince him otherwise, but he didn’t seem to hear a word I was saying. Instead he dismissed me. I wasn’t surprised. During the appointment he had been racing back and forth between my son and the patient in the room next door. He was on autopilot. Not once did he look me in the eye or show any compassion or patience. Though he said very little, his whole manner spoke loud and clear. It told me, You’re the patient. I’m the doctor. Just sit there, be quiet, and accept my help. Not once did I feel that I was being heard or did he slow down long enough for me to say, “What do you mean?” And this was the famous doctor who had a three-month-long waiting list! Just like the immunologist we’d seen before, he was stuck in a routine and made me feel like Addison was just a number.
That appointment revved up my engine. From the moment I stepped out of that doctor’s office, I was on a mission. I can’t and I will not just take someone else’s word, I thought. There must be something else I can do to help my son deal with these health issues. What are the options?Keep him medicated? Shots? Something natural? Get a second opinion? And that was the start of my trying to find alternative remedies for the medications these doctors wanted to prescribe for my child. A child who had yet to celebrate his second birthday!
Knowing there was something else out there for Addison besides steroids, but unclear what that “something” was, I started to do research. I went directly from that doctor’s office to a health food store. After all, if I was being urged to take a chance with prescription medications, it couldn’t hurt to take a chance first with something with no side effects. At the health food store, I perused the aisle of books, pulled one off the shelf, and put it on the counter.
“That book’s okay,” said the store owner. “But this one is great.” He pointed to The Allergy and Asthma Cure: A Complete 8‑Step Nutritional Program by Dr. Fred Pescatore. I was intrigued. It sounded like what I was looking for.
More in books
“Thank you,” I said, grateful that someone was actually trying to help me. I was so taken aback by the title of Pescatore’s book that to this day I don’t remember the name of the first book I’d selected. All I remember is that I put it back on the shelf, grabbed Dr. Pescatore’s book, paid for it, and headed home.
Later, my kids and I went through our usual nightly routine of dinner, baths, and bedtime stories. Though I usually savored our bedtime ritual, that night I was eager to curl up with my new book and hopefully find something—even just one piece of insightful information. And I did. I read the book from cover to cover, so absorbed, highlighting so much information, that the next thing I knew it was 1:00 a.m. I knew I needed to sleep, because soon enough I’d have to wake up and start the day with two young children. But I was too wide-eyed and excited. Everything this man was saying made sense. He was talking to me. He was talking about my son! I flipped the book over to see where the author was located and was amazed to find that he had an office right in New York City. I wanted to make sure he was still in practice, so I called information for his number and then called his office. (Yes, I knew no one was going to answer at one in the morning, but I wanted confirmation that this was the right place.) When I heard, “You’ve reached the office of Dr. Fred Pescatore,” I was elated. The next morning, the first thing I did was call again and make an appointment. I brought Addison in days later (and my daughter after that), and we’ve been seeing Dr. Pescatore ever since. I can honestly say that this man has helped change our lives.
At that first appointment, Dr. Pescatore did a blood test for food allergies. (The last doctor had done only skin tests, which aren’t believed to be as accurate.) Even before that appointment with Pescatore, I knew Addison was allergic to milk and soy, something I’d discovered when he was an infant. I had nursed both of my children, but Addison ate a lot, so I never had enough breast milk to pump and store in the freezer for him. This was a problem if I had to go out and someone else had to feed him. I had needed a backup plan. Our pediatrician had suggested a milk-based formula, but my son broke out with a little reddish-colored rash on his cheeks immediately after I gave it to him. Obviously, he was reacting to something. When I gave him soy milk, the same thing happened.
Dr. Pescatore’s more thorough testing revealed that Addison was allergic to more than a dozen foods! The list the doctor handed me, along with a color-coded chart, included black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, and wheat. This was surprising at first. I’d never heard of anyone being allergic to some of those things (black pepper?). I was even more surprised when Dr. Pescatore told me to omit these foods completely from my son’s diet. “Just try it for three months,” he said.
He tried to reassure me, but honestly, I wanted to cry. All I was thinking was, How is it really possible to avoid all those foods? I’m no chef. I hesitated, because this was a lot to do. But once I set those feelings aside, I agreed, even though I really wasn’t sure that I had it in me to do this. This task felt beyond overwhelming. But I thought about my son and his health instead of thinking about what I wanted to do.
At that point I did know a little bit about food allergies. All my life I’d been allergic (like my mother before me) to tree nuts (the only “nuts” I can eat are peanuts, which aren’t technically nuts, but legumes), fish, and seafood. As a result, I grew up very aware that I had to be careful. My daughter is also allergic to nuts, which I discovered when she was a baby. Still, dealing with nut and fish allergies is very different from dealing with a son with a long list of foods—common foods that are everywhere—to avoid.
I’ll be honest. I’ve been doing this for five years now, and at times it is still overwhelming to have to monitor my children’s food intake and be on guard for a reaction. At times it’s challenging. But so are many other things in life— such as marriage and work—and I believe that it’s all in how you choose to go in there and tackle it. If you’re trying to move up the job ladder at work, you have to roll up your sleeves and put in some hard work. You have to educate yourself, to learn. I don’t see this as any different. I had to make myself aware and knowledgeable. I can’t focus on the fact that I have to study every food label or fill my purse with special food and medication every time we leave the house. Am I going to get upset and angry? No, because that won’t take away my children’s, or my, food allergies. They are a part of who we are, but they don’t define us. I try to focus on the positive: my son may have a lot of allergies, but they are manageable. He doesn’t have to live in a bubble, and it could be a lot worse.
Allergies are more prevalent today than ever before, so you can find foods made without eggs, gluten, or dairy, and many labels tell you if a product was made in a facility with nuts or other allergy-causing ingredients. Plus, more people are aware of food allergies today than ever before. For example, my son certainly has it better than I did when I was his age. When I was growing up, I was the only kid in class with food allergies. Today, I know so many people whose children have allergies and asthma. Some cases are mild; some are severe. In short, those of us with food allergies are not alone.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh discovered that allergic reactions caused by food led to more than 7 million emergency room visits during the period 2001–2005. That’s an average of 203,000 each year! Ninety thousand of those were for the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
This is why I want to share whatever knowledge I’ve discovered on my journey, because I know that every little bit helps. What follows are the things that have made living with my children’s allergies and my own safer and easier for all of us.
From THE THRIVING CHILD by Erica Read. Copyright © 2012 by Erica Read. Used by permission of Center Street, a division of Hachettle Book Group.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive