The peanut and everything after

So, the evening that A ate the peanut butter cracker everything started to unravel. By unravel I mean there was vomit. A LOT of vomit. At one point during the night A was throwing up every 10 minutes. He would wake up, scream, throw up, fall asleep on me, wake up scream, barf, repeat from midnight to 7am, at which point I handed him off to Omer and went to sleep for a while. The rational side of my mind knew that none of this was peanut related – it was just a virus, and a poorly timed one at that – but the irrational side of my brain was wondering if I’d somehow poisoned the little guy by giving him peanuts. It was a long night – and a long week, since A obligingly kept vomiting randomly for a week afterwards.

Since then – and that was mid-January – A has had a series of viruses, bacterial infections, asthma diagnoses…you name it! He’s been to the doctor five times in the last two months, and I don’t really consider myself and alarmist parent! (I am surprised at the asthma diagnosis – I wasn’t there for that visit, but apparently the doctor told Omer that A had virus-induced asthma. Of course, when I took him back the next week for the next virus, the doctor we saw for *that* visit diagnosed a bacterial infection in A’s lung and prescribed antibiotics, which cleared everything up.) (A was supposed to get 6mL of Augmentin twice a day. Being a smart kid – and augmentin being a gross tasting antibiotic – A quickly learned that if he blew a raspberry just after I squirted the medicine in his mouth he could not only get rid of the medicine but he could coat the entire area around him in sticky, gooey fun! Trying to dose him twice a day for a week was…interesting.)

All this is to say that it’s now the end of March, and after a couple weeks free of fever and vomiting we’re back on the cold wagon again, though this time it seems to be a mild version. I’m really hoping that all this illness means A will be healthy as a horse for the rest of the year!

Parenting for peanuts

(I just found this post in my drafts folder. It’s a couple months old. I’m posting it anyway. So there.)

I’m an immunologist. One of my first projects during my PhD involved investigating the induction of allergies in mice. The project didn’t get too far, but the background reading stuck with me. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the principles of the Hygiene Hypothesis, which basically says that the dirtier you are as a kid the healthier you are as an adult. More dirt means fewer allergies, less asthma, and a healthier immune system. Kids who are raised on farms or who have many older siblings have immune systems that successfully ignore common allergens, whereas children raised in dust free homes have immune systems that behave much as I imagine their mothers did, overreacting to each little speck of dust or pollen or pet dander.

A corollary of this is that early and frequent exposure to common allergens such as nuts, eggs or shellfish will help the immune system learn to distinguish between harmful and benign antigens. Currently most pediatricians urge parents to hold off on exposing children to a whole slew of foods until the age of one. Some pediatricians say no egg whites before your child turns two. I think this is generally a bunch of nonsense, and my pediatrician was shocked and appalled (judging from the eye rolls) at the foods from the banned list that we’d already given to A at his nine month appointment.

There are limits on how far I’ll go to make sure the boys have healthy immune systems. I admit that even I was grossed out when G, at the age of 9 months, took a big sip of water out of a puddle favored by birds at our local playground. But I gave him peanut butter and eggs at six months, and he was fine. Eggs were his favorite breakfast food for about a year, though for some part of that he would only eat the eggs if I perched them on our moving roomba. The baby, though, is a different animal entirely. He’s a voracious eater, but the first time we tried eggs he developed red splotches on his face wherever the egg touched him. We fed him eggs once a week, and his budding allergies disappeared. In immunologist-speak, A’s immune system had become tolerized. His immune system had seen the egg, initially thought it was a threat, and then, after seeing it several times, decided to ignore it.

The slight egg allergy had me worried, though, and I was reluctant to give A peanut butter. For some reason, peanut butter allergies equate to anaphylactic shock in my mind, whereas egg allergies somehow seem less life threatening. A is a precocious little guy, though, and never one to let drawers or plastic wrapping deter him. Today he found a package of G’s peanut butter sandwich crackers, gnawed through the packaging, and ate one before we noticed what he was doing.