This is a new series focused on personal journey with eczema while managing a certain aspect of life. Today, we have Lisa, who is sharing on managing her son’s eczema when eating out. Lisa blogs at mybabyhaseczema.com and also LifeofaHappyMom.
Marcie Mom: Hi Lisa, thanks for taking part in my new blog series ‘Someone has Eczema’! Let’s start with you sharing a little of your son’s eczema, what’s the severity and his triggers?
Lisa: My older son’s eczema was quite severe as a baby, covering over 90% of his body. It is relatively mild now, but it still shows on his face and behind his knees, and he still itches other places.
There is no question that foods trigger his eczema. His gut is irritated, allowing food to pass through undigested, which the body attacks, causing inflammation, similar to how it attacks pollen in people who have environmental allergies. Once when he refused to eat for two days straight, his eczema almost disappeared. Eczema is not the only reaction he has, however; certain foods like milk can cause hives almost instantly, and some foods cause mild asthma-like symptoms which only last a few minutes.
Marcie Mom: Since your son’s eczema is triggered by food, can you share how his eczema flared when in contact with various types of food?
Lisa: He is more or less sensitive to most foods, but he doesn’t react to most of them instantly; they have to be absorbed and then he will show some reaction over time, in the form of more itchy red patches, usually on his face, neck, and behind his knees. It used to be all over. Eczema is not the only reaction he has, however; certain foods like milk can cause hives almost instantly, and some foods cause mild asthma-like symptoms which only last a few minutes. Recently he was playing in some white flour (I have some for science experiments, and his sister, who has no allergies, was digging for “dinosaur” bones in it on a rainy day for a school science project); he was fine until he rubbed his face, and then his eyelids began to swell and his face to feel hot and puffy. I rushed him to the bathroom and rinsed his face and washed his hands, and the reaction eventually subsided. He also has been known to throw up when he ingests certain foods; he used to throw up apples in all forms (even juice), but now he does okay as long as he eats only organic apples, and even those not every day.
Marcie Mom: Since we never really know what goes into outside food, how did you manage eating out? Do you take precautions (like epipen) or is there a tried and trusted way you identify where to eat to be safe?
Lisa: Because my son is not noticeably reactive to trace elements in food (if he were, I’d need two blenders!), and because of his tendency to throw up when he ingests too much of most high allergens, I have never gotten an epipen. However, since the list of things he cannot have is so extensive (including not just all the common allergens, but potatoes, corn, and other staples of many allergic and GF eaters), for most of his life I simply packed him a lunch. I would inform the server that he had allergies and so we had brought his lunch, and we never had a problem. Even in buffets, I would just tell them that he was allergic to everything (and when he was in the “I hate vegetables” stage, there was nothing he could and would eat), and they didn’t charge me for his meal. At 2 or 3, he didn’t care that he was eating something different from the family–that was the story of his life anyhow.
I once learned the hard way that you cannot assume a food will be safe. Once I found myself at the Olive Garden without his lunch. I had taken the bus, and we were too hungry to wait to go home. I ordered the GF pasta just olive oil and salt instead of the sauce, and double grapes, since he couldn’t have any of the juices they had. That night he had a rough time, wheezing and waking frequently. I wrote them and asked what was in the pasta (thinking back, I remembered it being a little yellow, as though it had corn). Not only did it indeed have corn, but also cheese and some other things that he is allergic to. So I learned to ask more questions about anything that wasn’t in it’s natural form.
Last month I once again forgot to pack his lunch, but this time we were eating at a buffet that had a huge salad bar. Since he has decided he likes veggies, though, it turned out okay. He ate lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, olives, kidney beans for protein, and jello for dessert. If I had planned better, I would have had a little something with more carbs in it, like bread or pancakes, but at least he ate enough. He did seem to react a bit more to that meal than he does at home, but I figure it is because we eat most produce organic, and he does do better on organic foods. But once in a while is okay for us.
Marcie Mom: One final question – do you have a fave restaurant or chef that dishes yummy food for your child and you have complete trust in?
Lisa: Yes! That buffet I just shared about is Sweet Tomatoes. There are several of them here in the Portland, OR area, as well as in other places. Besides salad, they have baked potatoes, several varieties of soups, muffins, faccocia bread, and pasta, as well as several dessert options. My husband is mildly sensitive to gluten, and I’m avoiding it while breastfeeding our youngest (who also has eczema, mostly in reaction to gluten and food colors, though I know there are some other triggers, just not strong enough to identify yet), and we both are able to eat as much as we want there. This last time I had two servings of salads, and he had a salad and a baked potato. They have a list of items on a card on the table that are gluten-free, and you can ask to see the ingredient list for any item available. Of course, if all you eat is salad, you know exactly what goes into it, and they have vinegar and oil available in bottles next to the dressings so that you can use those if you aren’t sure about the dressings, or are worried about contamination. Join their Veg Club and you’ll get coupons every week and never have to pay full price–they’ll even let you show the email on your smart phone so you don’t have to print it!
We have also found that in a pinch, my son will fill up on white rice, so Chinese and Thai food are also an option–but we usually try to at least bring some veggies and protein. But since we became concerned about GMOs, we have been leery of tofu and soy sauce unless we can read the label, so most of those places are not options for us now.
In summary, my advice to anyone would be to know your triggers, talk to managers if you are unsure about anything, and don’t be afraid to bring food if you or your child has allergies, especially if they can lead to life-threatening reactions when exposed to trace bits.
Marcie Mom: Thanks Lisa for sharing your journey with eating out with your son; it does take a lot of care and I’m wishing all moms and dads out there to have happy meals despite!