Little Isaac Puah (pictured) is so severely allergic to some types of foods that contact with them – even a touch – could spark off a dangerous reaction.
“If it’s a milk-based food, he gets hives (rashes) on his face and legs simply by touching it. For food containing eggs, his nose, cheeks and eyes, hands and feet will swell,” explains his mum Joanne Seow.
The first harrowing incident was when he ate mashed egg yolk at the age of seven months, as recommended by an Asian dietary book for weaning babies.
“He took a quarter of the egg yolk and, half an hour later, projectile-vomited a few times and blacked out,” Joanne recounts.
She grabbed her limp baby and ran all the way to the nearest hospital, which is a few streets away from their apartment. By the time they arrived at the emergency department, Isaac had – thankfully – regained consciousness.
The doctors thought that he passed out because some vomited food particles had blocked his windpipe. Isaac was brought home after he was given the all-clear.
“But two hours later, his whole body turned red and hot. He kept rubbing his feet and face because of the itch,” Joanne adds.
This time, they rushed to another hospital with a children’s emergency department, where the doctors were more equipped with dealing with babies. They concluded that Isaac had suffered an anaphylactic episode.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause death in extreme situations.
A month later, Isaac suffered a similar severe allergic reaction after he ate chicken.
Joanne recalls living in trepidation, not knowing what foods would trigger the next attack. “I kept getting flashbacks on how he lost consciousness, and went limp and cold like a rag doll,” she says.
Subsequently, skin prick and blood tests revealed that Isaac was allergic to a host of everyday foods ranging from eggs, dairy, peanuts, cashew nuts to chicken and even soya. He also suffers from the skin allergy, eczema.
Food allergies are more common in babies and children who have other allergic conditions like asthma, eczema or allergic rhinitis (nasal allergy).
Isaac’s father, Puah Ser Hon is a doctor, while Joanne is a pharmacist by training.
“We should have known better, being health-care professionals ourselves. But we never saw it coming,” she admits.
“Only after the diagnosis and explanation from our son’s allergist did we learn how to manage his food allergy and that gave us peace of mind.”
Progress, at last
Monitoring what their little one ate was particularly challenging in the first year.
Even Joanne had to watch her own diet for the first two years of Isaac’s life. because she was breastfeeding him. She stopped taking dairy products and sweet treats such as chocolates and Milo – he’d have rashes and swelling after nursing.
But now that they know exactly what are off-limits, the anxiety has eased a little. He currently gets his calcium boost from chewable supplements that are free of dairy, soya and egg ingredients.
“We pack food like allergy-free pasta, rice or sushi rolls for his break time in school. So far there have been no accidents there because the teachers are very vigilant,” she adds.
To be extra cautious, they taught the teachers how to administer an adrenaline pen – to be injected into the thigh – and how much antihistamine to give in an emergency.
Despite his young age, Isaac knows he has to stay away from certain types of food, such as biscuits and cakes, offered at parties.
Unlike most kids his age, he has never tasted cake after blowing out the candles. Just one tiny bite of it could be deadly.
To make up for the fact that he’s has never enjoyed a birthday cake, his dad handcrafted an allergy-free “cake” for his third birthday recently.
Made entirely out of different fresh fruit cut into shapes like teddy bears and dinosaurs, the multi-tiered “cake” was topped with candles, strawberries and ribbons of sliced cucumber.
“It was such a pity that Isaac could not have any cake on his previous birthdays. This time, he got to blow out the candle, as well as cut and eat it,” Ser Hon says. “It was a good moment for our little family, and we were happy that our son finally got to enjoy his ‘cake’.”
They are optimistic about Isaac’s condition. Because his symptoms manifested so early in life, his allergist mentioned that he may outgrow it at an earlier age, too.
Already, he has outgrown his chicken, soya and peanut allergies with age, allowing him to have a more varied diet. “For now, we can only watch and see,” says Joanne.
“But hey, at least he has made improvements. Hurrah for that!”
(Photo: Young Parents)