06 April 2014

19: Allergies - Something Old.

Mummy I'm Itchy!

Here we go again... Back to having an allergic little boy in the house. Something old that I would prefer not to have to go through again.  I was thrust unwillingly into the world of allergies nineteen years ago with my eldest son and have no desire to return.  It was what set me on the path that I am travelling today, it gave me the spark to try and understand the medical world that led me to become a Paramedic.

Nineteen years ago I thought I was the luckiest person on the planet when I gave birth to my first born son.  I had always wanted to have a little boy and couldn't believe my luck when it actually happened.  The only thing I can equate it to was like being a kid in a toy shop and told you can pick anything you wanted, I picked him and was blissfully happy.

It didn't take long for the signs to start appearing, literally, all over his tiny perfect little body.  He began to be covered in red spots that would appear and then disappear, then even worse they stayed.  I learnt to change my washing powder to lux flakes and wash him in only sorbolene cream. Despite everything my lovely little boy was consumed by awful eczema and we had no relief.  Even if I covered his little hands to stop him scratching he would learn to use his arms to rub, rub, rub his face raw.  You could barely bath him without bringing tears to your eyes, watching such delicate skin ravaged with tormented red, oozing flaky skin.
In desperation for help I turned to a skin specialist.  I dared wonder aloud to him if it may be related to food as it seemed to be particularly bad around his mouth.  I was shot down in flames and was made to feel ashamed I even dared to ask, I was told it had absolutely nothing to do with food and that I was ridiculous to have even thought of that.  It wasn't until he caught a severe case of chicken pox at six months of age, and was hospitalised, that he was brought to the attention of a paediatrician.  For the first time ever, at the follow up appointment, the paediatrician announced that he was going to do a RAST blood test to find out what he was allergic to.  I nearly fell off my chair, I couldn't believe a doctor actually wanted to find the answers I was seeking; he proved to be allergic to many, many things but in particular to cow's milk, egg protein and possibly peanuts.

We both went on a strict diet, avoiding all cow's milk, egg and peanut products. Up until the blood test he hadn't actually eaten the foods himself but was only exposed through breast milk.  Back then he was allergic to many other things including tomato and soy sauce as well as the moulds, dust and pollens you would expect, however, these just irritated his eczema or triggered what soon became asthma. At twelve months of age we began the next step in the journey I did not want to travel on; he was diagnosed with food anaphylaxis - a life threatening allergic reaction to food.  We found out through accidental ingestion of cheese at a party exactly what happened if he ate those foods directly, he swelled up like a balloon and required urgent hospital treatment and adrenaline injections to reverse the reaction.  Life became even more complicated and carrying around emergency epi-pens became a part of a 'normal' routine for us.

Back then our world revolved around me cooking everything from scratch in our home; a kitchen nazi, having to separately wash pots and pans and utensils that had touched egg separate to all other dishes.  For a boy who was allergic to almost everything in the world around him life was pretty hectic and stressful.  You can just imagine how hard it was to contain a busy baby, then a toddler who wanted to pick up and try every morsel of food he came across.  A normal exploration of the world, yet for him, one that could quickly turn into a catastrophe.

Years of dealing with these issues, educating kindy and school and being heavily involved in support group associations for both eczema and anaphylaxis was mind boggling exhausting.  Out of necessity, rather than interest at first, I joined as a volunteer ambulance officer as we relied on this service in our country town.  Spending night after night listening to your son breathing and trying to avoid the next hospital visit, constant fear and worry about what will happen next is a monotony that you just cannot get away from. Something I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

It's a relief to be able to look back on those times with the current knowledge that I have now; my eldest son is nineteen years old and enjoys a normal healthy life.  He still gets very occasional eczema but is no longer anaphylactic to foods, he can even enjoy ice cream and chocolate just like everyone else. It's amazing what a child misses out on growing up when they are allergic to even the butter on everyone else's bread. Those days of worry are over, he still has asthma but hasn't had a bad attack in years.  You always wonder if it will ever come back, if there will be something new to worry about. However, watching him live his life like a normal person is truly a reward that makes me realise that it was all worthwhile, that we made it.

Sadly though, nineteen years on and I am back to where I started from, this time with a four year old who also has allergies.  In addition, my 8 year old son was recently diagnosed with asthma, after years of me being in denial about it. Thankfully neither is as severe as my eldest son, I am extremely thankful for that!  However, the hives that my four year old son breaks out in is truly frightening.  About 2-3 years ago we first noticed that he was allergic to 'something' when he would come in from playing outside itchy and covered in hives. These were generally controlled with Zyrtec, one day he rubbed at his itchy eye so badly the whites of his eye began protruding outward; a horrifying sight which unfortunately I had already experienced with my first son. A trip to the hospital and a referral to the same allergy paediatrician my eldest son saw put me at ease. Once he was skin tested it was established that he was allergic to basic allergens such as dust, mould, grasses and pollens.  The doctor felt he was simply giving himself skin tests when in contact with these allergens, with the reactions only topical and not systemic or dangerous.  Phew, what a relief, I could deal with that.

The next few years consisted of draining our fair share of Zyrtec and all was good.  That was until a couple of days ago when my four year old admitted he was itchy, something he often avoids as he knows he gets medicine.  I was absolutely horrified at what I saw when I lifted up his shirt, his entire back and shoulders were covered in hives, so badly swollen they had all melded together to be almost one giant hive.  Poor little guy, must have been awful for him. Zyrtec reduced the swelling, as did a bath, the addition of Prednisolone helped reduce the redness as well as an application of topical cortisone cream.

He woke the next morning with lovely smooth renewed skin, one of those amazing moments when you blink and wonder had you simply imagined the hideous sight his skin had been the day before.  There were a couple of faded spots on his belly so to be on the safe side I gave more Zyrtec and we went about our day. During the afternoon another report of spots led me to inspect him again, this time he was literally covered in more hives which were quickly morphing from small spots into larger circular hives spreading outwards. I administered another dose of Prednisolone and booked a GP appointment. The GP was as perplexed as I was and we agreed I should try a stronger antihistamine next and keep an eye on him.  Two doses of Phenergan four hours apart made me think I was on the home stretch when I put him to bed.

Alerted to coughing coming from his bedroom not long afterwards, and finding my little guy squirming in bed and with a coughing fit made me realise it wasn't over.  Despite all the medication the hives were even more angry and mutliplying, spreading quickly over his body again and again.  That was too much for me to sit back and watch him suffer through, I whisked him off into the dark night to the emergency department.  Even while we waited and he slept, I watched the hives spread out and disappear, reappearing in new patches of skin that hadn't yet been consumed.  I am pretty convinced that every inch of his body by this stage had been affected at one point or another, including his scalp!  

We were eventually discharged with a pat on the back for doing all the right treatment and encouraged to wait it out.  It was confirmed that they were definitely hives, as to why, none of us knew.  Whatever it was it wasn't leaving my poor little guy until it had covered every inch of his skin.  Today is a new day and a promising one, his body has cleared up amazingly well except for his lower legs.  Surely, surely, this is it now. 

Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about children, allergies and basically anything at all, I am quickly shown I know absolutely nothing and am at the mercy of fate.  Sometimes things just happen and all you can do is deal with it one day at a time and hope that tomorrow is a better day....

 Washed only in sorbolene...
 My eldest son's trademark eczema mouth!

 Mummy I'm itchy!

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