I still see this question pop up every now and then . If you are already feeling overwhelmed by your symptoms (or your child’s symptoms) it’s hard to know where to start if you want to document what you are eating and what reactions you are getting to show to your healthcare provider.
Our Diagnosis Story
My daughter exhibited signs of food allergy from just a few weeks old, it was obvious as she ate her first solid food that it was dairy causing the problem. We were lucky that we were able to get a blood test at 5 months old as she had such a bad reaction that we ended up in hospital.
After cutting dairy from both of our diets (as I was still breastfeeding) the eczema which covered her head improved by about 90%, but I felt that she was still not doing as well as she should. My doctor and health visitor were very unhelpful, they both felt that milk allergies were not a real concern, but I found a lot of support in a Facebook group where I read that milk allergies were often linked with soya and egg allergies. I have always eaten a lot of eggs, so I cut them out of my diet on a trial basis and voila – we worked it out, she has an allergy to dairy and egg!
Did I use a food diary?
To work out the main food allergies, no, we didn’t have to. Why do I still think food diaries are a great diagnostic tool and recommend them in my social media groups?
By now I had a lot of experience as an allergy mom (I’m a Brummie, we say mom ) and I knew what all the main allergens were, but from my experience in the Facebook allergy group I knew that there were hundreds of children (and adults) who were allergic to all sorts of foods, dander and pollens.
My daughter was still ill on a regular basis and it seemed more like a reaction than illness as it eased quickly with anti-histamines. These reactions weren’t huge and didn’t require a hospital visit, but it was frustrating to be missing a small piece of a bigger puzzle. At this time A was 3 years old and I had another baby to look after, I was fed up with these reactions that would appear from time to time and decided to take action and make a food diary.
I wasn’t able to find one that fit my needs exactly, so at the time I wrote it all down in a normal blank notebook. After just 1 week I had a main suspect, pineapple. This is definitely not one of the main allergies and quite uncommon. I cut it from her diet and she no longer had the frequent digestive reactions.
I did not tell my doctor at the time, he was still convinced that the milk and egg allergies were really a problem with my anxiety (you will be happy to know that I am registered with a new, better practice now). On a visit to the allergist with A aged 7 I told the doctor about my food diary and she added pineapple to the list of allergens to be tested, she was very excited to try something different – and there it was a weak positive! FOOD DIARIES DO WORK!
How do food diaries work?
We were lucky (if you can see it that way), we started with an extreme allergic reaction on weaning and she was ultimately only allergic to 3 things. People often find that it is harder to gather evidence as to what is actually causing the problem when the reactions are less severe or when you are dealing with multiple allergies.
- Make a note of what you eat and it’s major components (e.g. weetabix is mostly wheat, note the fruits that were in the smoothie).
- Make a note of the time you ate something, after a week you may see a clear time period from when you ate a food to a reaction, which is why you may have missed it.
- Make a note of any medications you are taking and the time you took them, side effects from medication are not uncommon and could be mistaken for an allergic reaction to foods.
- Make a note of any reactions and the time so that you can try and make a link back to a certain type of food consumed.
- In the case of rashes and hives I would also take a picture on your phone to show your healthcare provider. I have also known people take nappy pics, which may also help you show a doctor the extent of your problems.
- Try to eat a varied diet in the time you are looking with as much variety as possible, this helped me in seeing the days my daughter did not have pineapple were days without reactions, had she eaten it every day I may have not noticed the pattern.
How do I use the completed food diary?
If you can see no obvious patterns from your diary you can take it along to see your doctor, I would recommend having at least 2 weeks of entries with a couple of reactions on to see if you are able to identify anything.
The most likely suspects for food allergy are going to be your top 14 allergens. I would also look at any relatives with allergies, we have a very distinct dairy allergy in our family, so it was the first thing I considered. I would also say, don’t discount a food just because you think you can’t be allergic to it – I have spoken to many people with melon, lettuce and carrot allergies. You can be allergic to anything!
If you are having no luck with your doctor and can’t figure it out on your own you should consider social media to try and guide you – there is a lot of experience in my allergy group on salicylate allergies and sugar intolerance and there is usually someone around who will have gone through the same thing you have.
Please be cautious
I was able to cut dairy from my diet when breastfeeding as I was able to get a source of calcium from fortified soya milk. I was able to cut eggs from my diet as I had other sources of protein available to me.
My daughter has a specialist soya milk which is supplemented with vitamins and minerals and has not affected her health or development. There were no consideration to be made when cutting pineapple from her diet as it does not affect any of the major food groups and she has no problems with other fruit and vegetables.
In the case of small children, especially those with multiple allergies, I would always recommend taking your findings to a doctor or health visitor and asking for help for a referral to a dietitian. We saw one every 18 months until the age of 9 and it was a great help, I would definitely recommend it to ensure you or your child are getting a fully balanced diet.
Where can I download a food diary?
I didn’t have a food diary specifically for identifying allergies when my children were little and certainly did not have time to put one together, so I have made a simple PDF daily sheet that you can download below.
It’s very simple, but I hope it can be of help to someone.
As always – I love to hear about your weird allergies – comment below or Tweet at me if you want to tell me all about them or tell me your struggles to get diagnosed properly.