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Leslie’s Story

I am Leslie Miller, Alison’s younger sister. I am a contributor to this site for a few reasons. First, I am a registered dietitian. Second, I love cooking and have in recent years made many gluten- and dairy-free dishes for my family. Last but not least, I have personal experience with living with a food allergy. While I do not have celiac disease or a food allergy, one of my two sons has a dairy sensitivity. It is a subtle, unproven-by-standard-allergy-testing type. I don’t understand it, but I know that it is there. This is his story.

When Oliver was a newborn, he was slightly jaundiced and slept for the first 6 weeks of his life. He stirred enough to nurse, with closed eyes, and then slept more, never spending any time awake. It wasn’t until 6 weeks passed that he began to spend some of the daylight hours with his eyes open. The only explanation that seemed like it might fit for his sleepiness and jaundice was something called breastmilk jaundice, which meant that he had some sort of allergy to my breastmilk. But usually that runs in families, and his older brother never had exhibited anything like it, so the diagnosis was left unproven.

As a toddler, Ollie was his own quirky, and moody, little person. He tended to be pretty introverted with people outside the family unit. He had an inexplicably difficult relationship with my mother. She seemed to evoke all things reclusive and scowling in him. He also was prone to having tantrums that lasted an hour and were impossible to derail. They involved screaming, kicking and scratching. We just chalked it all up to his unique temperament.

Physically, he grew normally and was healthy. The only thing wrong was that he seemed to have a perpetually runny nose and would cough a little bit every day, especially when he went to bed. He also would occasionally get flushed red cheeks for no reason, especially after eating pizza. We suspected a dairy or tomato allergy. We had him tested for allergies, both food and environmental, as well as for celiac disease, but everything came back negative. We decided to remove dairy from his diet anyway, just to see what would happen. Within a week his cough, runny nose and flushed cheeks disappeared. It was like magic. Then, unexpectedly and to our great surprise, his personality also changed. Our Ollie became an easygoing, cheerful, tantrum-free child. The possibility that his difficult personality could be linked to his diet had never occurred to us previously.

At first it was hard for me to believe and trust the results that we saw. I questioned whether we were imagining it or not, since we had no medical proof that our son could not tolerate dairy, and since his reaction was mild and mostly behavioral. But there have been many times since then when Ollie has inadvertently been exposed to dairy, and the results are always the same: a slight cough, and the bizarre inability to cope with life which manifests itself in a week of tantrums, extreme neediness, complaints of being cold, and an unfriendliness towards people outside of the immediate family.

He may grow out of it. We will test it as time goes on. For now, we will continue to read labels, pack special snacks, diligently ask about food in restaurants and friends’ homes, and most of all, trust our instincts about the health of our children.