Monday, November 10, 2008

Pat a cake, pat a cake

Pat a cake, Pat a cake
Bakers man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and Prick it and mark it with a T
Then put it in the oven for Teddy and ...

“Chip!” Chip completes the rhyme excitedly. And then asks, “Does that cake have egg in it?” “No sweetie.”, I reply. “That’s a special cake. No eggs.”

Chip is allergic to egg. Both yolks and whites. It means that his body does not recognize the egg protein as a harmless food. It attacks the egg protein by releasing immunoglobulinE that cause certain histamines to be released in his blood, causing a severe reaction. He gets hives, his face and ears inflame, he itches, gets unbelievable stomach cramps and finally his body tries to get rid of the offensive substance by making him violently sick. When Chip was younger, he would also wheeze – his airways would get inflamed as well. Fortunately egg allergies rarely result in an anaphylactic shock – something that nut allergies can snowball into.

For Chip, the tiniest amount of egg causes a severe reaction. (For differences between intolerance and allergy refer to Tara and PG’s posts). Pastas made on equipment shared with products that have egg in them. A bite of a bread brushed with egg whites. A tiny dot of ice-cream containing egg yolks. When he was younger, even touching egg products would bring on a dermatological reaction – the site of contact would get itchy and he would develop rash or hives. As he has grown older, the response has toned down in its ferocity. Instead of suffering for a few hours, he suffers for one. His pediatrician thinks he might outgrow the allergy by the time he is 5 or 6, and even if he doesn’t, it would downgrade to an intolerance level- he should be able to enjoy a small slice of cake or half a muffin by the time he reaches adulthood. He might not be able to eat a plate of eggs all his life.

Chip was diagnosed with egg allergy when he was 10mo old. The allergy had manifested itself once before, when I gave him a dot of peach ice-cream, he grew red instantly and howled and vomited multiple times. But he suffered from colitis as a baby and we attributed it to that fact. When he started flailing his hands and turning red and having severe bouts of vomiting, twice, when I fed him french toast, I suspected an allergy and the doctor confirmed it. Chip also has eczema and asthma, which put him in the high-risk group for food allergies as is.

Having an egg allergy is difficult. A lot of foods have egg or egg derivatives in them. Baked goods, salad dressings, battered foods, ice-creams, chocolates, potato chips, corn chips can have egg in them. So do influenza vaccines (which Chip does not get). The first few months after the diagnosis were hard. Two years ago, many foods did not list egg as an allergen 9many still don't), so before buying every processed product I had to learn to read labels. Before buying every ice-cream at the concession stand I would have to ask to see the list of ingredients. Before buying every pizza, I would ask the restaurant to provide me with a list of ingredients. Often we would turn back with Chip not getting the ice-cream, pizza or chicken nuggets. Baked goodies were avoided like the plague. The nanny was taught to spot an allergic reaction and dispense Benadryl. Then the same process repeated when he started daycare.

The first thing we realized in dealing with Chip’s allergy was that we had to make him aware and educate him. By the time he was two, we taught him to ask “Does this have egg?” when offered a new food. And to decline if it did. He did admirably, most of the times, but sometimes it was hard for him, especially when a plate of birthday cake with colorful icing was offered to him, and on many occasions he ended up having a meltdown and refused to accept substitutes. But he learnt. We reminded him of what an allergic reaction would do to him. It was not the world’s most pleasant experiences. He also learnt to identify when he was having an allergic reaction and alert a grown up.

He did me proud a few weeks ago. We had carried chocolates for our family when we visited India. Twix and mars bars and three musketeers, that sort of thing. Someone offered Chip a chocolate and he ate it –nobody thought chocolates had egg in them. A few seconds later, Chip ran into the kitchen proclaiming he was having an allergic reaction. “To what?” I asked. He said he had eating a piece of candy and it had egg in it. The signs were all there. He was itching, his face had inflamed. I gave him ½ tsp of Benadryl, but it was too late. His stomach started to growl and he started to howl in pain as cramps twisted inside his little tummy and a minute later, he violently threw up. This was not the first time Chip had eaten candy. He ate lollipops and gold coins all the time – it was just luck that he had never consumed candy with egg in it – I really had no idea candy would have egg.

It’s hard for Chip at birthday parties. And other social occasions. And it’s hard for us. I wish people were a little more sensitive to his allergies. Especially in the desi circles. I remember an incident a few weeks ago in India. We were visiting some family and they had bread (the paav, not the sliced bread) for dinner. It came from a small bakery, with no nutritional information anywhere. A similar paav had caused an allergic reaction in Chip once and I was cautious. I asked Chip’s aunt if there were any rotis for Chip or rice. The paav might have an egg glaze. She said she could make rotis, no problem, but could he not “try” the bread and see if it had egg in it? I did not know whether to laugh or beat my head against the wall.

Parents whose kids have allergies are most understanding. I have two such friends (one of them is gnd) who will always have a ready substitute on hand for Chip. And for that I am grateful to them. Another friend is also very understanding. Her child has no food allergies, but knowing how hard it would be on Chip, she asked me before her daughter’s 1st birthday party if it was OK for them to cut cake in front of Chip. I thanked her for her consideration and quietly took Chip away to the garden while cake was served. Most people don’t realize what it is to have a food allergy, in a social sense, for a young child. To be “different” like this. It’s not easy for a child. So, I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of dos and don’ts for all of you out there that are fortunate to not suffer food allergies.

Don’t feed my child without asking me first.
Although Chip will ask if a food has egg in it, he is only three and very often he will forget. Check with me or his father before you feed him anything. For parents of young children who are allergic, there is a good selection of tees and onesies at Just search for 'allergy' and you will get results for tees with things like “Don’t feed me, I am allergic to XYZ.” It’s great if you are attending large parties or if your child is starting a new daycare.

Do inform the parents which foods with common allergens will be served at a party
While your menu should be allergen-free when a child with severe allergies (like nuts) is invited, for most other non-anaphalytic shock causing allergies (like egg), a warning will be appreciated. The parents can then decide how best to handle the situation.

Do serve alternate foods
Don’t make it a party where the child can only eat potato chips and nothing else. Children are very sensitive. Do offer some, other non-allergic foods.

Don’t pity my child
Not to his face, at least. Admire his courage instead, when he declines a piece of most yummy looking cake. I have had friends exclaim loudly to me at parties “This is such a pity. So sad he can’t eat the cake.” To Chip’s face. Don’t rub it in.

Don’t thrust a cake in my face when I am shaking my head to a “no”
This does not mean I am disrespecting your party/guest of honor. It only means I am going to give my son some company while he sits by himself, unable to enjoy the goodies. And yes, please refrain from asking things like “Even if Chip can’t eat, you can eat, na?” in Chip’s presence. Especially when he is whining for that item. The child is old enough to understand. And if you do ask, don’t be offended by what I answer.

Do educate your own child about food allergies even if your child doesn’t have them
No parent wants their child to be weird of different. In the US at least, there is a growing allergy awareness and kids are understanding. In India, even adults think allergies is a firang disorder and will tell you so. No idea what their kids will do.

This post is a part of an allergy awareness month started by Tara. Please share your stories and comments and help spread the word around.

Cross posted on :


Sheela said...

Informative and Educational post. It is commendable that Chip at 3 is able to ask (even if not all the time) if the food has eggs in it! Educating our children, and others, and creating a strict no-food-sharing policy is the least one can do to keep our kids safe.

Side note: Allergies can develop at any age - a colleague of mine who has eaten almonds all her life, at 55 years developed a severe allergy to almonds... she is fine with other nuts, though. So, it is a good idea to sort of keep an eye out on what our kids eat as they grow up...

heather said...

Great post. Thanks!

My son is allergic to soy, peanuts, eggs, wheat and dairy. I started a website to help other people with food allergies. SPEWD Free has soy, peanuts, egg, wheat and dairy free recipes and a food allergy blog.

Divs said...

Fabulous post! One of my very close friend's son who is almost 3 years old himself also has severe allergy to eggs and nuts. His reaction is far more severe even in the case of eggs so I can totally feel your and Chip's pain. And totally agree on your comment abt Indian adults thinking it is just a firang nakhra! How frustratingly ridiculous na?

Saheli said...

Thanks Chip's mom for the post.
I know what you are talking about. I am allergic to eggs too. It all started after my son was born. And you are right just avoiding eggs doesn't count much. Specially in US, a lot of food items have egg in them. My worst experience were at Indian restaurants where the Naans have eggs. Another time, they had eggs in Aloo tikki, which I would have never guessed specially when the menu was vegetarian.
Some people think I am a diet freak when I refuse to eat cakes or other desserts. (they don't know how much I miss them). One time, a 'friend' suggested to keep eating eggs so that my body will get used to it. As simple as it sounds, I couldn't explain her the pain I have to go thru and countless trips to the bathroom.

Well, I do hope that Chip out grows his allergy and is able to eat all the goodies.
As for you, I don't have any special advice, I think you are doing pretty much everthing you can.
Take care

Pallavi said...

I understand how hard it can be. One of my friend's daughter has egg allergy and I feel so bad at all the birthday parties when the 3 yr old cant eat the cake all her friends are enjoying.. my son's birthday is coming up soon and I want to bake atleast some nice cupcakes for her that are eggless. I have been experimenting with different eggless cake/bread recipes from a month or so.. I have posted a few on my blog too. ( (search for eggless)) I hope Chip outgrows the allergy very soon..and is able to eat everything.. !Meanwhile, I am sure you may be giving him substitutes..Thanks for sharing..

DotThoughts said...

Pallavi and heather: will visit your sites for recipes now!

sheela: wow. at 55?

divs and saheli: thanks for sharing your experiences!