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Monday, March 02, 2009

Gaetano's Allergy to Artificial Color

Back in March 2005 I blogged about discovering my son's allergy to artificial color. It was a brief entry stating I had a suspicion and would be taking him to see an allergist to confirm my suspicions. Today Id like to finally follow up and get this out there for other parents who may have children with this allergy.

When Gaetano was 4 years old, he'd had a chronic cough for nearly 2 years. He had multiple ear infections as well and the doctor said that if he gets one more ear infection we would need to put tubes in his ears. The poor little guy was constantly congested but I didn't know why. I've been congested most my life, so I figured it may be bad genes, but I hoped to find a different reason.

Gaetano would get a fever and I'd give him Children's Tylenol for it. Most of the time he threw it up right away. Sometimes he'd throw up later. Either way, I'd blame the vomiting on the fever or illness itself.

It was the same way for antibiotics; he would get a pink colored Amoxicillin and he'd throw that up too. Again, I'd blame the illness or fever. He'd get better, but not as quick as I thought he should for being medicated. It almost always felt like illnesses had to run their course and that medicines didn't really help.

In between being sick, when he was more healthy than not, he was still congested and coughed quite frequently. I took him to the doctor to see what was wrong.

The doctor tried to tell me he was asthmatic and gave him Abuterol (which I've since learned contains yellow #6) for his chronic cough. It didn't help. I knew it had to be something else and figured it was something he was allergic to. I didn't know what that allergy might be. Was it the old carpet in our house? Was it all his stuffed animals he'd drooled on for years? Was it some other environmental cause that I didn't know about? I looked for every possible cause I could find -- I didn't want him to be asthmatic and suffer with that all his life.

From time to time, Gaetano would spike a fever and throw up but had no other symptoms that were noticeable. It could have been that he wasn't very talkative being only 4 years old and not having the words to express how he felt. It could be that he really had no other symptoms. I'll never know for sure.

Every illness (for lack of better term) which happened seemed to have a decent explanation of its own. Yet somehow I knew that there had to be some common thread. Maybe it was my maternal instincts, maybe it was my analytical nature at play, or maybe it was neither. It just seemed logical to me that there could be something making him sick and I just didn't know what it was.

I started trying to keep a mental note of what he ate before he threw up to see if maybe it might be something of a gross food combination that would naturally upset anyone's stomach. (You know, like milk and orange juice together.) Sometimes I had to figure out what he'd eaten by what came out of him... I started to notice that every time he puked it was pink.

Looking back through my blog, I see that I never wrote about taking Gaetano to see an allergist. Well, I did that and found that there isn't a prick test for artificial color. He was given a prick test anyway and turned out he wasn't allergic to anything that he was exposed to at home or daycare.

I learned that the only way to test for an allergy to artificial color was to remove it from the diet for 3 full weeks before re-introducing it to the diet. If he gets ill, it is fairly safe to assume that the dye was the cause. You should then wait for the reaction to clear up and then 3 weeks after that you can try introducing the artificial color once again. We did this several times, sometimes without my own knowledge...

Most of our family thought that I was just being a health nut or overprotective, that there's no way that artificial color could possibly make anyone sick. Some thought, "a little won't hurt", while others simply didn't believe it at all.

At the time, I was going through divorce and Ambrogio (my ex-husband) didn't think there was anything wrong with our son. Ambrogio just figured I was trying to be controlling since I was "picky" about Gaetano's diet from the time he started eating solid foods. (I made all his baby food from organic vegetables.)

It wasn't until family members gave Gaetano foods with artificial color without telling me first that they believed me. It's pretty convincing when you give him something with red dye in it and he pukes in your car!

It took a few months to get everyone else who cared for him on board with checking every label. There were many "accidents" and those responsible always said things like, "It wasn't that much.", "I'm sure he'll be fine.", "It wasn't red, it was just yellow #5." It was infuriating at times to say the least.

Months later, I'd finally gotten Gaetano off all artificial color for a full month and his cough was much better. He was generally much better behaved too. We thought that was just because he was getting older but I've since learned that some children react to artificial color with bad behavior (or hyperactivity).

He got sick a few times the year following, and we came to discover that there's only one liquid antibiotic that did not have artificial color in it. One. That's right; just one. (It was an Amoxicillin, but I can't recall exactly what it was called right now.)

The doctor said that since there's only one antibiotic he could have, it was important to keep him healthy since he could build an immunity to it. Though there would be ways to get around that issue, it would be a major hassle he explained. So, I did my best to keep him healthy as I could.

A year later Gaetano was much healthier over all. He wasn't congested anymore and hadn't gotten any more ear infections either. (Yay, no tubes!)

Over the years there have been several slip-ups where he's had artificial color. In kindergarten it was orange iced cookies for Halloween that some parent told him it was okay to eat even though he said he couldn't have it. He trusted them. In first grade, there was a similar instance. There've been plenty of other times where he was given something either accidentally or carelessly over the years.

From time to time we run into people who don't believe his allergy is real. They think I'm nuts. Most people are understanding thank goodness. However every now and then someone will try to tell me that a "little won't hurt" and I just stand my ground. Most of the time saying something like, "Well if you want to clean up his puke then by all means give him a little!" convinces them enough not to give him anything he shouldn't eat.

Gaetano's had a rough time of it in the last couple years because kids at school can be so mean at times. Some have teased him that they have certain candy and he can't have it. For the most part, he handles it pretty well. Sometimes it gets to him and he says to me things like, "Mom, do you hope that I grow out of my allergy some day?" or "Mom, can we just test it and see if my allergy is gone yet?"

To make Gaetano feel better, I try to buy everything red that I can for him to eat that is all natural. (I know he's allergic to the other colors, but red is the one that makes him puke.) I buy all sorts of great treats from Whole Foods for him because I know that shopping there is safe. I've made homemade candy corn, bubble gum and marshmallows for him and they're even better than store bought junk! Luckily there's very little that I can't find an equivalent for, so he doesn't feel left out.

Why am I writing all this after so long? The answer to that is soon to come. (Hang in there; I know this is a long blog post!)

Last night, we were eating at a restaurant and the server offered us some "all natural" black cherry soda. I asked the waiter if he was sure that it was all natural and told him my son is allergic to artificial color. He said it was all natural except that it had sugar in it. I commented to him that sugar is natural, and he said that some people complain because it has sugar in it. That should have been my tip-off that this guy had no clue, but I trusted him.

Half way through drinking the can of soda that the waiter had poured into a glass, Dan started to read the can's label. You can see where this is going... Red #40 was the final ingredient. Dan & I did our best to not make a big deal out of it and let the waiter know.

In short, I didn't like how the waiter handled the situation. I found him rude as soon as he said, "I told my manager and he said it only has a couple of drops of Red #40 in it." I decided against talking to the manager at that time because I didn't want to make a big deal with my son there. (The waiter offered me the chance to speak to him now or I could call him later. For some reason, he insisted that if I was going to talk to him it had to be now, not after our meal. It was very awkward.)

I was as nice as I could be about it, letting him know that I just thought he should know so he didn't tell people it was "all natural" anymore. I told him that I didn't blame him, that I should have checked the label. He didn't seem to believe me. Despite the awkwardness, we ordered dinner and did our best to enjoy the meal.

Gaetano seemed a little concerned that he might get sick. I explained to him that he'd been wanting a test to see if he's still allergic. "Well, this is your chance!", I told him. I explained that if he didn't get sick from it this time, then maybe he's outgrown it.

I wanted to allay his worries and really let it be a true test. I knew that only some red wouldn't necessarily bring on fever and vomiting but I knew it would at least bring on congestion and possibly an upset stomach. I didn't tell Gaetano what I thought might happen.

I really wanted to talk to the manager on the way out (while Dan & Gaetano waited in the car), but I didn't. Having been a restaurant manager myself for some time I was mad that he didn't even bother to stop by the table. I knew that if I spoke to him it was not going to be pleasant. I saw the manager from a distance. He looked like he was a generally grumpy person. It would have been ugly... So we left.

About 45 minutes later I noticed Gaetano didn't look too good. I asked him how he was doing and he replied that his tummy hurts. I asked him when it started hurting and he said it'd been hurting since about five minutes ago.

I did my best to get his mind off of it, making him smile and laugh while being careful not to make him suspicious. He went to bed in a good mood and I hoped for the best.

At 3:45am I woke up with a massive headache. I'd been dreaming that Gaetano was sick and that I'd taken him to the hospital. The doctor said it wasn't his allergy, but it was stress due to the TAKS tests. I got out of bed and went to go check on Gaetano. He was sound asleep and didn't feel feverish. I felt relieved. Maybe he'd be fine. Maybe he's outgrown his allergy?

In the morning, Gaetano woke up and complained of a headache and tummy ache. I checked his sinuses and he seemed to be rather stuffy. Most likely a sinus headache caused by the congestion that ingesting artificial color causes for him. The verdict is that he's not over his allergy.

Gaetano was worried that he'd throw up at school because of his upset stomach. Dan & I tried to put his mind at rest and convince him that he's just worried about the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge And Skills) test tomorrow. I'm hoping that we were right.

I really hope he feels better. He needs to be feeling good for TAKS tomorrow. Having a bad day prior to the big test is sure to make him tired.

So there you have it; I'm writing this for two reasons. One is because I'm worried about my son since he had a dose of Red #40. The other reason is because I know that by sharing my story here on my blog it'll help other parents.

If you found this info helpful, or have a story of your own to share, please leave a comment. Thanks!

Posted by ~Angela | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Permalink