Could it be allergies?
By Bev Parrish
Could your child’s erratic and volatile behavior be a result of environmental or
food allergies or sensitivities? Our son Jack’s was.
A little history is in order. My pregnancy with Jack was normal, with the
exception of my having bronchitis twice, lasting a total of 8 weeks. We lived in
Austin, Texas, in a rent house where the previous renter had had 11 indoor cats,
and was an extremely poor housekeeper – there was cat fur everywhere! The house
was very, very dusty (and furry), even though we vacuumed every day with a “wind
tunnel” type vacuum cleaner that doesn’t allow flow through dust to be expelled
into the air. Lastly, Austin is home to lots of cedar and oak trees.
The only thing of note about Jack himself as an infant was that he came out of
the womb with a terrible case of eczema in the crooks of his arms, and behind
his knees. It never left him.
I breastfed Jack for his first year, introducing solids at about 10 months,
beginning of course with rice and slowly adding in other foods.
When Jack was 6 weeks old, we moved out of the rental house and to Houston,
Texas. This home’s previous owners were also indoor cat lovers, smokers, and the
house was old.
Everything seemed fine until Jack reached about 18 months to two years of age.
He began hitting himself in the head repeatedly. He would frantically (as
opposed to typical toddler “artistically”) scribble on the walls with whatever
was handy. Any loose paper he could find was immediately cut apart – again,
frantically, rather than creatively. He would hit me without any provocation.
His eyes were constantly swollen, but this had come on so slowly, that we really
didn’t notice that it was abnormal. He had dark circles under his eyes, and a
persistent “drugged” expression on his face. Frequently, for no apparent reason,
he would dissolve into tears or a fit of rage.
I love to read, and happened on Is This Your Child by Doris Rapp. It’s about
children and allergies. I found Jack in the pages of that book. We took him to
the allergist for testing for environmental allergies. They did the standard
small set of pricks for a toddler. After the pricks, I was lying on the
examining table, with Jack calmly resting on my chest, waiting for the pricks to
“take effect.” After about five minutes, he reared up on his elbows and swung a
fist at me. His ears were beet red, as was his back in several places. They
immediately administered Benadryl to him and he calmed down within a few
Turns out he was allergic to cats, oak, dust and dust mites – all of which we
were exposed to in abundance in our rent house during my pregnancy with him, and
some of which he was further exposed to in our home now. The allergist told us
that sometimes babies could develop sensitivities to allergens in the womb, if
mom is overexposed to them. That appeared to be the case.
The allergist prescribed steroids for the short term and antihistamines for the
long term – with the prospect of allergy shots later. We didn’t like the idea at
all, but decided that to help Jack immediately, we needed to try the medication.
It worked. But it also made Jack sleepy. We didn’t want to give him
antihistamines forever, so we took additional measures.
Over the course of about 9 months, we eliminated any offenders in our home that
we could. We replaced carpet with hard floors (and lived without proper flooring
while we saved money to replace it), installed a whole house filtration system,
replaced all the old air ducts and put air filters in every bedroom. This helped
immensely. Jack was a new kid! No more hitting, cutting things, drawing on
walls, etc. He began to say, “I love you, Mommy,” where he had rarely said that
before. His eczema began to clear up. It was as if he had been trapped in a
world created by allergens.
Soon, however, the old behaviors resurfaced. We noticed a connection between his
unusual behavior and the food he ate. Is This Your Child talked about food
allergies too, but we thought we’d taken care of everything with the airborne
I was overwhelmed by the thought of following an elimination diet as prescribed
in the book, so we just decided to eliminate the common offenders, that are also
common ingredients in kid friendly foods – wheat, dairy, and eggs. Jack improved
immediately. We had been giving him an orange at least once a day, for its
anti-inflammatory properties, until we noticed that it seemed to set him off. So
we eliminated citrus, too. As we replaced his wheat cereal with corn, we noticed
that the corn seemed to bother him, so we eliminated that as well.
Now we seem to have hit upon all the things that bother him, and have eliminated
This is wildly, profoundly inconvenient, not to mention expensive! We could only
keep Jack’s diet completely free of offenders for about three or four weeks, but
this seemed to be enough to give his immune system a chance to relax and not
react to everything. The allergist had told us that this could happen.
Over time, however, we have learned that he seems to tolerate things I make from
scratch using organic wheat, eggs and milk. That allows him to enjoy on occasion
things the rest of the family eats. Trial and error has even proven that he can
tolerate some prepared food – such as bread (and not organic) from the store, if
it is free of additives and artificial colors and flavors. He only gets these
things in small quantities, but in a pinch, he can have them.
He drinks rice milk, eats rice cereal, oatmeal, fresh fruits and veggies
(although over time, if they aren’t organic, it seems to bother him), wheat free
cookies and crackers, etc. We try to eliminate additives and artificial colors.
I’m learning to bake things he can have, and it’s good for the whole family to
have more variety in the grains we eat anyway.
We have settled into a food routine that works for Jack and is doable for me.
It’s not perfect, I’m sure, but it’s one we can all live with.
If you feel this might be a problem for your child, read Is This Your Child? You
have nothing to lose by trying the suggestions, and your child has possibly
everything to gain.
Our New, Happy Jack!
For additional reading on the effects of food sensitivities and children, I
highly recommend a seemingly unrelated book:
Unraveling the Mystery of Autism
by Karyn Seroussi.