Friday, December 4, 2009

After years of blood tests, my seven-year-old son is eligible for a food challenge. Great news, right? I would have thought that this would have been only a source of excitement for us. I was unprepared for the anxiety that all of us, including my son, feel about it.

For those of you who don't know what a food challenge is, here's a little nutshell explanation. Every year my son gets a blood test to determine the amount of allergy antibodies in his system. When the number falls below 2, he is eligible for a food challenge. In the challenge, he will be given increasing amounts of the food that he has been allergic to (in our case, the challenge will be cows' milk). The challenge happens in the doctor's office in case he has an allergic reaction. If he does, he is still allergic and has to continue avoiding. If he makes it through the challenge with no reaction, he is believed to no longer be allergic. However, if he passes the challenge, he will need to eat a serving of cows' milk (cheese, yogurt, milk, etc.)at least every other week. So, to me it seems like it's not that he's no longer allergic so much as that the allergy has changed, since if you're not allergic, you don't have to follow these same rules.

An allergy to cows' milk is pretty scary since little kids are so messy. We have worried every time kids eat ice cream and drip near him, and we worry that some child will spill his milk at lunch. Passing the food challenge would eliminate those worries. The world would be a lot less dangerous for him. Also, he could eat foods (like crackers) that are made on the same equipment that is used to manufacture foods that contain milk. That would be great.

So, what's there to be anxious about? Well, plenty, actually. The odds are slightly better than 50% that he'll pass. Those aren't the greatest of odds. He's worried that he's going to get sick when he is exposed to his allergen. (Since we've hammered this into his head for years, that's not shocking.) They just don't know enough about how people outgrow allergies to give us better odds than that.

Also, my children and I are vegans. He was very upset at the idea of eating cows' milk. For us, though, his health and safety are our biggest concerns. We have told him that it is up to him if he passes the challenge if he wants to continue being a vegan or if he wants to eat cows' milk. He would have to eat the one serving every other week, though, even if he chooses to remain vegan. We would treat that serving as his "medicine" to keep him healthy.

The nurse practitioner at our allergist's office was amazing. She took lots of time to talk with me about our concerns. She advised us in how best to talk to our boy about the challenge, and she helped us help him make the decision to go ahead and give it a try.

Our appointment is set for the end of January. We're keeping our fingers crossed until then!

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