Food Allergies Exist

As a kid, I wasn’t allergic to anything. I rarely got sick, and pretty much had no childhood illness. The question remains as to whether or not I got the chicken pox. According to my mother, my brother had it and it was awful for him. So many soars, the raging fever, and the all around misery associated with it. On the other hand, I had the fever, and but for one random pox on my thumb (all assumed it was a pox), I showed no other symptoms. I recovered quickly.

This was the theme of my childhood. I was healthy.

At some point in my late 20s to early 30s I developed an allergy to dairy products (eggs are not dairy). Specifically a protein found in all mammals milk called casein. It took awhile to figure out.

I had a chronic cough. Not a small cough that could be contained or excused away at parties, but a deep cough that would continue for minutes on end, leading to my eyes watering, difficulty breathing, and intermittent apologies to those around me whenever possible. I couldn’t sleep without coughing. I was afraid to attend social functions that required silence. Meetings at work were stressful. Everyone wondered if I had something contagious. And as it turned out, so did a few Doctors.

Test after test after test resulted in nothing. I was accused of being a smoker. I have never smoked a day in my life. I was accused of being around smokers. That too, was not the case. I was accused of lying about my habits. In the end, after months of visiting varying professionals, I was told I needed to go on steroids. I declined. I didn’t want to just address the symptom, I wanted to find out why, and fix it.

One night while out with friends, one of which was an ENT out of Hopkins as well as an allergist, I was asked how long I’d been coughing. The comment was, you still have that cough, how long has it been. Eight months I replied, with full on sadness erupting from my eyes.

The ENT Doctor friend said in the simplest of terms, that generally, when an adult has a chronic symptom that seems to defy explanation, it can be tied to a food allergy. The most common is milk. He suggested I cut it out of my diet and see what happens. Two weeks later the cough was gone. A month later I got tested and found I was positive for a dairy allergy. This was a life changing moment.

My eureka food moment was happening at a time when being lactose intolerant was starting to gain traction in the media. Generally, the assumption was I was intolerant versus allergic, even when I explained otherwise. It became a problem when going out to eat. And for whatever reason, I felt the need to apologize for it. That, thankfully, is no longer the case.

It is important to accept that people do have food allergies. And even though some believe that claiming to be allergic to dairy or gluten is more diet focused, the allergies do exist, and a person who has the allergy will get very sick if they ingest the food, even in small amounts. It can affect ones immune system. The results of ingesting the food can last for days.

Think of it as poisoning someone. That is how I have started to describe it. Please don’t poison me. I know I am very specific when explaining my allergy. All I ask is you listen, communicate it correctly to the chef and double check to make sure the order is correct before bringing it to me. I love food. I want to enjoy it, always. And if you’re a restaurant and do it right, I will be back time and again.