Today is a big day for us. The kids will take a baked milk challenge under the care of our allergist.
Yesterday I set out to bake muffins in preparation for today's challenge. It was my first time buying cow's milk for our family in several years. As my youngest sat in the cart with the groceries, he looked at the jug of milk with curiosity -- a forbidden fruit for so long -- and instinctively reached out to touch the cold plastic encasement. I firmly explained to him that he still needs to be careful because (1) he has a contact allergy to milk and (2) he hasn't even taken the baked milk challenge yet so nothing has been proven safe yet.
After school I really dragged my feet with making the muffins. Usually I love baking -- you can hardly keep me out of the oven for three days straight without me emerging with some piping hot, sweet goodie. But yesterday I just wasn't feeling it. Was it anxiety? Was it the possibility of our regular avoidance routine being turned on its head, even though it would be for the good? I wasn't sure. But when I finally got cracking with the muffin task, I felt totally out of my element. I realized I was missing a key ingredient (applesauce), ran dangerously low on another (flour), and I couldn't find any muffin liners. I did remember that I had Halloween muffin liners in our holiday decorations box -- liners adorned with skulls. SKULLS. Great. Just perfect for holding a potentially dangerous muffin.
|I kid you not about the skulls.|
I should backtrack a bit.
Earlier this year the kids' pediatrician recommended I see another allergist, Dr. Y, within our medical group to get a second opinion on the kids' allergies. I was all for it. After all, in the seven years since we first discovered Ryken's milk allergy, the recommendations on how to address and possibly head off full-blown food allergies have changed. Seven years ago, strict avoidance was the rule and kids susceptible to food allergies were recommended to wait until the age of 3 to try certain foods such as nuts. In talking with friends and families who are expecting or have food allergies, it sounds like many doctors are advocating the introduction of some common food allergens early on. A cousin whose her eczemish son tested positive for a peanut allergy at 6 months was advised to expose him to small amounts of peanut butter. Another doctor whose eldest had a dairy allergy introduced baked milk products to her youngest at an early age. (Both kids are doing fine under these doctor-recommended courses of action.) Make no mistake, there definitely isn't agreement on treatment. There is no cure but much more promising studies that need more time, and research that suggests that for some people, gradual exposure to allergens in certain forms may help them overcome those food allergies down the road.
We went to see Dr. Y for the first time. Dr. Y explained to us that individuals allergic to milk may often be able to tolerate milk when it is baked as the heating process as the extensive heat changes the shape of the milk protein and the body may no longer recognize the protein as a foreign substance to attack. After discussing food allergies and a harrowing blood draw experience for both boys, we found the results of my oldest Ryken's IgE blood test for milk allergy at the lowest it's ever been, dropping below a 25. At Ryken's and Callan's current IgE levels, they have around a 70 percent chance of passing a baked milk challenge.
I jumped at the chance of having the kids undertake the baked milk challenge. I have had roughly 10 weeks between our last allergy appointment and today's food challenge to warm up the kids to the idea of taking it. (Last appointment's traumas: Ryken hid behind the examining table for 10 minutes to avoid a blood draw. Brave Callan finally broke down in wails after being needled in both arms when the phlebotomist couldn't find a vein in the first.) The kids are finally ready. I am a firm believer in telling it like it us and not tricking my kids into thinking something is fun or painless. So the kids are fully aware that there will be skin prick tests and, hopefully, the eating of something they have not eaten before. They know we will be at the doctor's office in the care of many trained professionals that will do everything they can to monitor and minimize risk. They also know there will be DVDs, books, drawing time, and a No School Day at the doctor's office.
The muffins are ready. The kids are ready. Am I ready? I think so. Avoiding milk has been such a big part of our lives that I'm not sure how I will react if the kids get to take that first bite. Horror? Excitement? Tears of joy? Whatever the emotions may be, I will embrace them in this bumpy journey living with food allergies.