That post was filled mostly with despair--
Today comes the healing.
At the time of our appointment with Dr. Paller of Chicago Children's Hospital, our son was basically covered with eczema from head to foot--baby eczema at its worst. Literally, it was so bad that his cheeks were oozing and stuck to my arm when he nursed.
Oh the pain in this mother's heart.
Desperate and bleary-eyed, I trudged to downtown Chicago with my sweet son in tow, hoping beyond hope for some relief.
For him and for me.
What Our Doctor Recommended
During the appointment, Dr. Paller graciously told me about what eczema is and how doctor's don't really know what causes it, but that it appears to be an allergic reaction of the skin. She told me that her preferred course of treatment was:
1. Topical hydrocortizone using the strongest over the counter strength, twice per day, or as needed, using the lowest prescription strength only when needed. (I don't even want to think now of the strength of the cream that we first put on my vulnerable son's body.) I found the ointment preferable to the cream as it was easier to cover a small area with the ointment. But it does help the medicine to penetrate the skin more readily so consult with your doctor as to which is better for you.
2. Warm baths daily using a really gentle cleanser for only 3-5 minutes (any longer and she said that the skin would become susceptible to even more eczema), followed by a layer of the steroid cream and a moisturizing lotion. She recommended Cetaphil. These days, I would use a more clean cream (with no parabens) like a pure organic cream or this really soothing Beautycounter Body Lotion or Baby Balm, which many have said works great for skin issues. Another great idea is to put some body oil under the cream for a moisturizing boost.
3. For times when intense relief is needed, a warm damp cloth wrap, followed by more hydrocortisone cream.
I was concerned about the hydrocortisone use, especially for baby eczema, but Dr. Paller said something to the effect of "We've been using these creams for over 40 years. Yes, there is a slim chance of a negative effect on your son, but not getting sleep is for sure going to damage him and this is much less risky."
Balanced and sage advice.
As a side note, allergies were definitely a problem genetically for my son. A little history:
I had been almost debilitated by seasonal allergies in my high school and college years.
In high school I stayed home for 6 weeks out of the year, having school assignments brought to my home so that I could complete the work and stay on course. (The only thing that I did go in for was biology since that class was so demanding.)
Could Severe Baby Eczema Be Caused by Breastfeeding?
As Dr. Paller and I were talking, I asked her about food allergies and whether his eczema could be related to food.
Her answer was that about 30% of eczema seemed to be food related.
That begged the next question - how does one figure out if foods are the cause? I had a suspicion that maybe we were dealing with a food issue from flares I'd seen my son have after certain foods I'd eaten.
Dr. Paller said that basically there were IgE blood tests, but my son was too young to have those.
We'd have to do an elimination test where I would remove probable allergens out of my diet to see how he responded.
She then told me that there were 6 top food allergies that should be considered NOTE: Food allergies have progressed over the years and now there are 8 top food allergens. They are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.).
She said I could remove each potential allergen for 3 weeks to see how my son's eczema responded and then add it back in and try the next one.
The next question that I had is what changed our life and brought us real hope.
"What if he's allergic to more than one food?" I asked.
She said that was possible, of course.
I needed relief and I needed it fast. What I couldn't afford was 18 more weeks of itching, and 30 minute stretches of sleep. What if he was allergic to 2 or 3 things and just removing them individually out of his diet didn't heal him and we ended up after 18 weeks just where we started?
So I asked her if it would be alright to remove all 6 potential allergens out of my diet for the recommended 3 weeks to see what happened.
She said that nutritionally that would be fine.
So that's what I did.
But my son's skin cleared up gradually as my elimination diet progressed.
We continued with the treatments of hydrocortisone and baths. They were tiring, but at least I was getting a little more sleep as my son felt some relief.
Basically I eliminated all the obvious sources of the Top 6 allergens out of my diet, but noticed slight to fairly bad flares even from me just eating milk chocolate. So out everything went from my diet. I was scouring labels and making sure I ingested nothing that my son was allergic to.
And then his skin was almost perfect.
The next test was to add the foods back, one at a time.
Well, it became pretty obvious that we were dealing with allergies to dairy and peanut. And egg.
And at 5 months of age (the earliest age at which IgE blood tests are typically performed), my son ended up in the hospital with rotavirus (that's another story as well) and since they were drawing blood anyway, we decided to try an IgE blood test.
Allergic to dairy, egg white and peanut.
After all of these elimination tests and IgE test results, the question became:
Should I restrict my own diet and continue to breastfeed my son?
Or should I just go the "easy route" and put my son on a soy-based formula.
My son's wise pediatrician warned against the formula route. Given my son's sensitive constitution, he cautioned that it was quite possible that he would develop an allergy to soy and then we would be forced to either make our own homemade formula or go on a "pre-digested protein formula" that, if I remember correctly was running $80 per week.
Again, wise advice.
I decided to go the "hard route":
- eliminating everything containing anything on the allergen list
- reading tons of labels
- learning all the derivatives of dairy, egg, and peanuts. There are a LOT.
But I really wanted to breastfeed my child and my mother's sense told me that while the nutritional aspect of nursing was important, the bonding aspect of nursing was crucial as well.
Later, true to our pediatrician's advice, my son was also diagnosed with tree nut and sesame allergies and even soy.
He has outgrown the soy allergy, but not the others, though he now tolerates almonds and macadamias.
And later, as my son grew, we found out more about him that made us glad I nursed him as long as I did.
It would turn out that he had much more going on than just the food allergies and itchy skin.
Beneath the surface lay a hidden condition, called autism.
A condition that I (along with many experts) am convinced originates in the mind and gut.
I truly think that my choosing to breastfeed my son may have kept him from either worsened Asperger's or even full blown autism.
I will never know, this side of heaven, but I am glad that I made the sacrifice to give up my food in order to nourish my son's body and soul.
Now, let me make this clear. This is not meant to be a criticism of mother's who have chosen to opt for formulas instead of a restricted diet.
But it is meant to encourage those who are dealing with eczema to look at diet as a possible cause. And to consider how important breastfeeding is to your child.
For more of our family's health struggles and victories, you may want to read:
- Natural Autism Healing and the Best Treatment of All
- Natural Autism Healing (Monster Included!)
- Just Tired or Is it Something More?
- Could you Have Heavy Metal Poisoning and Not Know It?
- Just a Red Face - or Something More?
I have been so touched hearing from readers about their eczema and food allergy experiences. Please share so we can all learn from each other.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaniz/2114708830/