Easy allergy-free (top 8 allergens) cupcakes

For almost two years we have discovered that our 3 year-old, DR has developed new and increasingly difficult-to-avoid food allergies.  His first was eggs, so I had to learn to bake a lot the foods that we once could purchase pre-made from the stores.  The second was peanuts, which limited us further in items we could bake with that were not processed with peanuts.  The third and most recent, milk, sent us reeling again.  It’s only been 6 days, but my research and experimentation led me to the most amazing and easy cupcake recipe that is completely free of the top 8 allergens.

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While all I wanted to do this weekend was keep DR next to me and hover over him while he ate, I knew it wasn’t possible.  As 3 year olds go, he’s very independent and active.  He hates for me to tell him what to eat, and he most definitely does not like to be confined to our house when he’s done nothing wrong.  So when it came to a family get together on Monday for his cousin’s first birthday I had to make a plan.  There were no bakeries in the area that could make dairy, egg, and peanut free cupcakes on short notice (not that I have the ability to trust anyone to do that right now).  So I half-heartedly started my research expecting to have to go out hunting for weird ingredients like xantham gum to make somewhat decent cupcakes.  However, in all of my research I found an amazingly easy combination of ingredients with the only “weird” one being vinegar.  The cupcakes turned out moist and springy like you want and the frosting was easy to make and apply.

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So here is the ahhh-mazing recipe:

Cake:

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In one bowl whisk together sugar, coconut* flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a second bowl whisk together butter, coconut* milk, vanilla, and vinegar.
  4. Pour the second bowl contents into the first bowl and mix until just combined.
  5. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners. Fill the liners two-thirds full.
  6. Bake in oven 20-25 minutes.
  7. Cool completely.
  8. Frost as desired.

Frosting:

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Using mixer, beat butter until light and airy.
  2. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and coconut* milk and mix until smooth.
  3. Beat on high for another 2 minutes until light and fluffy.

 

*While coconut does grow on trees it is not typically listed as a tree nut.  It is considered a botanical nut and placed in a fruit category.

~Lacey

 

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The beginning: a very good place to start – part 1

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It has been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to blog.  I sit down at the computer when I have a few minutes and I start to type, but I haven’t been able to make sense of the past couple of months. So I’m going to break it down into several parts to better explain and, hopefully, understand and come to terms with it myself.

My three year old, DR, has been diagnosed with both egg and peanuts allergies.  He also has some pretty severe eczema.  However, over the past year we have worked to maintain a healthy and safe environment for him, so his skin was clearing up and he hadn’t had a reaction in months.  We were going out more, had found some great sitters who understood his needs, and our daycare was on board and on top of all of his food intake while he was in their care.  We were feeling pretty good about our allergy-restricted life.

The second weekend of July, I took a trip with DR and his one-year-old brother JN from Savannah, GA to Burnsville, NC.  Because of other medical issues, it had been months since we had seen my family, and that weekend was much needed.  We enjoyed the fresh mountain air, took a dip in a local river, played outside in the breezy summer heat, and ate to our hearts content of my grandmothers amazing food.

We stuck to our food guidelines the entire time, even when my grandpa made himself a peanut butter sandwich.  He is on a diet, so peanut butter is one of the few nutritionally valuable items he can eat.  Because of this, his contact with DR was limited for about 8 hours after the sandwich, all surfaces were cleaned several times, and he ate it outside in an area where DR would/could not go.  The plate and other utensils were disposed of in a trash can outside and isolated from the rest of the house. This was two days before we left, and all seemed fine.  I had prepared for instances like this, and we came through it without any issue.

As we got ready to leave on Monday we noticed DR had a small rash.  We assumed that it was the difference in weather and the fact that he had been in the river the evening before.  Little did we know that the rash was just the tip of the iceberg and far from over.

From that moment on the next 4 weeks would include 5 scary hives outbreaks, an anaphylactic reaction, an ambulance ride and hospital stay, a unexpected but necessary allergist change, a new allergy diagnosis, and a potentially delightful surprise.

~Lacey

 

The 5 stages of food allergy grief: a child’s emotional reaction

DR was originally diagnosed with an egg allergy at 18 months old, at which time it was easier to limit his exposure as he only ate what we gave him.  A couple months after his 2nd birthday, we discovered his peanut allergy.  It was a little more difficult to avoid this allergen as peanut butter was one of his favorite foods.  We quickly replaced all of the peanut products in our house and finally found a suitable alternative to peanut butter.  Now that he is older and is learning to eat things for pleasure/taste he starting to go through his own stages of food allergy grief, making the exposure more difficult to avoid.  As a parent, only able to watch from the sidelines, his reactions can either add to the stress or help with the overall learning process.

Denial:  To keep him from feeling left out or isolated from other children, we tried to find as many alternatives to normal foods that looked or tasted similar.  For a while, we thought we had it made.  However, in the instances that we cannot predict when food will be brought to school for surprise parties, special events, or impromptu outings, it is difficult to have equivalent alternatives.  For example, one day last week, a child in DR’s class had a birthday.  Up to this point, no parents had brought in treats for other birthdays.  On this particular day, the other child’s parents decided to bring in special cookies.  Of course DR could not have one.  The cookies looked just like allergy-free cookies I had made before, so he could not understand why he couldn’t have them.  This led to a meltdown.  At 3 years old, he cannot understand why some items have eggs and others do not, and while I try to explain it to him, I am at a loss right now.

Anger:  Before his first reaction to peanuts I would allow DR to pick out a candy treat when he was good in the grocery store.  Due to having to read all ingredients for his egg allergy, grocery trips could be 2-3 hours and his compliance was key.  After his peanut allergy was discovered, this reward system disappeared.  Even though I offered him other rewards like stickers or books, he still wanted his candy.  One day, as we were checking out after a long grocery trip, he grabbed some candy off the shelf (of course it had to be Reese Cups), and tried to open them with his teeth.  As I wrestled them away from him, he was screaming and crying angrily at me, “I WANT THEM!!!”  I tried to explain from the store to the car, on the ride home, and even after carrying all the groceries into our kitchen, but his poor little 2 year old mind could not understand why this had changed.  He was used to not getting his candy when he misbehaved, but he had been perfect during this trip (except for the angry tantrum).  Since then, I try to avoid food as a reward, giving him other options at the beginning of our trips, so food is not an option in the end. 

Bargaining:  Bargaining has a very literal meaning here.  Despite all of my preparation,  extra snacks, and explanations to DR and others, I still have to keep a close eye on DR as he eats.  I have caught him in many instances swapping food with other kids, sharing his special snacks.  When he realizes he is caught, he claims that he is sharing. I have to start my explanations all over again.  Then there are the times he sneaks foods that he KNOWS he cannot have.   A couple weeks ago, we caught him eating his dad, Justin’s donuts.  As we panicked looking for the first sign of a reaction, DR kept saying “I fine.  I not itchy.”  Unfortunately, within minutes the rash started, and again we had to explain the dangers to him. 

Depression:  Halloween was a rough time for us this past year. I was extremely vigilant in keeping him away from candies.  I purchased allergy-free snacks to switch out when he went trick-or-treating.  I donated allergy-free options to local trunk-or-treats.  I literally prepared a month in advanced for this event.  In our town, Halloween and Fall festivals spanned several weeks, so we had a good pattern going.  Unfortunately, by the time Halloween actually arrived, DR was so burnt out from all of our special treats, activities, and precautions that he didn’t want to go trick-or-treating.  It was then that I learned that there should be limits to how concerned or scared we adults appear to children with allergies.  He was beginning to mimic my depression, and this was what I had been hoping to avoid

Acceptance:  I am amazed at how quickly DR can grasp this concept.  I think because his allergies developed at such a young age, we are avoiding some of the worse emotional reactions.  I love that at 3 years old he asks if food that is presented to him has eggs or peanuts.  And most of the time he loves his special foods.  I wish that my own acceptance of the issue could come as easily.

I am very much aware that as he ages DR will repeat the cycle of food-allergy grief, but I feel hopeful that he remain the spunky, wild, vivacious boy that I love.

~Lacey

 

 

 

Hindsight is not always 20/20: DR’s story

With most life threatening issues and mistakes in life, when we look back on them we can clearly see the cause and how it could have been avoided.  Unfortunately, many medical conditions like food allergies are exempt of this clarity, even after the fact.

For the first 18 months of his life, DR clearly had something going on.  He was sick every two weeks, constantly in and out of doctor’s offices, and sometimes admitted to the hospital.  His eczema only got worse with each flare, and nothing seemed to really “cure” it.  Doctor’s were unsure and sometimes baffled by his issues.  My husband, Justin, and I were exhausted and at our wits end.

When we finally found answers during our first allergist appointment for some of his problems we looked back to all we had dealt with and could not find a clear time when that had been the cause.  In these instances, the food allergies and their reactions were unavoidable.  The proceeding incidences due to the food allergy are ones that fall into the hindsight-is-20/20 category.  Once you know what to look for, mistakes become neon reminders of what you should have and could have avoided.

Hindsight with food allergies may not always be 20/20, but I can guarantee that foresight for a food allergy mom is even more calculated and precise.  Our knowledge of what goes into our children’s mouths, comes in contact with their skin, and is carried by others is so vast that we can catch almost any danger….almost.  Issues arise and the cycle repeats when new allergies arise for which we are unaware and unprepared.  You will see this many times throughout our posts, especially with DR and MH with their many allergies.

~Lacey

Perfection

As a mom I have, at times, striven for perfection.  Especially in today’s society where our lives are broadcast on social media, and judgement abounds around every mishap.  The past month, I have seen as the world has sought to “crucify” parents who have made unintentional mistakes (the gorilla and alligator incidents):  critics call them careless and avoidable.  Of course these situations can be deemed avoidable now.  As it’s always said “hindsight is 20/20.”

I have experienced several of these moments in my own three years as a mom.  Many of these experiences were due to my son, DR’s food allergies.

Since I found out, he had these allergies I have blamed myself for plenty, even things that are beyond my control.  First, I blamed myself for the fact that he even had allergies.  I am allergic to tree nuts as well as other environmental elements, so I assumed that my genetic make-up was the cause of his allergic tendencies.  It took me a very long time to realize that I had no control over this.  I could not have predicted in a million years that he would develop his peanut and egg allergies because of my biology.

Then came the guilt when he would break out for no known reason.  I would scour ingredient lists and pour over food diaries to find the culprit, only to be disappointed when it was something I had missed earlier that caused the reaction.  I would beat myself up for days after he had healed, determined to overcome my own stupid, fallible, human nature.

Finally, I felt less than human when he would catch me eating something he couldn’t have.  I was lowly, unworthy of his love because I expected him to go without when I couldn’t.  I would vow not to give into the cravings.

So as you can see, I alone have placed this blame; unfortunately, this is not the end of it.  I have been on the receiving end of unsolicited and cruel comments about my parenting by many others.  When we had to rush him to the Urgent Care because of a reaction to peanut butter months before his diagnosis, the doctor basically accused us of feeding him an egg product to which we knew he was allergic.  When he breaks out it his eczema rash, people constantly comment like we aren’t trying to fix the situation, like we are the reason he has this issue.  When he ended up in the hospital (non-allergy related), a close friend called to inquire that perhaps his illness was a punishment for the fact that his father and I lived together before marriage.  All of these comments were unnecessary and unwanted.  They did not help us.  In fact, they caused more issues.  They made me doubt myself as a parent, made me work harder toward an image of perfection I could never reach.

I couldn’t bear it anymore, so I stopped.  I stopped striving for perfection, and instead focused on those things I could do to protect my son.  I spent less time listening to others and more following my intuition.  Had I continued listening to and caring about these comments, I would have lost everything:  my self-confidence, my mind, and my relationship with my amazing son, but by accepting my imperfections, I now have everything.

~Lacey

But how do you know?

DR has been officially diagnosed with a food allergy for about 18 months.  I still remember the appointment that day in October.  He skin was lashing out for an unknown reason, and we were excited that we might discover the reason why, hoping it was something easy and simple like changing laundry detergents.  Never did I think that day would change our lives as much as it had.

Since my teen years I have had my own experience with allergy tests.  The pricks followed by the burning and itching.  At DR’s appointment it was not clear what he was allergic to, so they began by testing for the most common allergens.  Since he was a toddler they decided it was best to prick his back.  I helped him undress and sat him in my lap, his big eyes smiling up at me, and then it began.  He tried to jump, squirm, just get away.  With each pricks he screamed.  Once the nurse was done, I let him hop down.  He backed away to the corner and did not want to be touched.  My heart was broken for him.

Sadly, the worst part was yet to come.  Since we had to wait and see what reaction (if any) he would have, he could not put his shirt on, and he most definitely could not scratch his back.  As dot after dot turned red and he tried to reach them to scratch, my heart sank even more.  Finally the nurse and doctor returned.  DR’s spots were examined.  He was diagnosed with an allergy to cats, dogs, some trees, some grasses, and then eggs.

I was speechless.  I had never heard of anyone being allergic to eggs.  Looking at the dots, I noticed that the reaction didn’t seem that bad, so with a hopeful note I asked “how bad is the allergy?”  The doctor informed me that we could not necessarily determine that by just the rash reaction.  So in order to know more, he had ordered some blood work.  Wonderful…even more sticks and holes.

We drove to the children’s lab and prepared and waited.  Finally, when we were called back, I sat him in my lap and was instructed on how to hold him best, so that his arm couldn’t move.  The nurse laid out some vials and we tightened our grip on DR.  He immediately started screaming when he was stuck.  It felt like this moment would never end.

When we were finished the nurse gave him some stickers.  I took him for lunch, emotionally drained.  Instead of taking him to daycare, I took him to a park to run around. After all he had been through that day I could not imagine hurting him even more, but as our journey continues I am learning that this is nothing compared to the pain he could later experience because of an awful reaction.

~Lacey

 

The 5 Stages of Food Allergy Grief

Just as with any major change or loss in life, we all go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The development and discovery of food allergies can be a big blow to any lifestyle and diet.  When we began our adventures with food allergy avoidance, our journey was not smooth, but learning to identify the stage we were in and overcoming the grief was as important as identifying the allergy itself.

Denial: The day we learned of DR’s egg allergy, my stomach dropped.  How could he be allergic to eggs?  I had never heard of this as an allergen.  No one else in our family had this allergy.  He had been eating egg products for months.   He loved cheesy scrambled eggs.  Besides, our pediatrician said his eczema was due to environmental factors like trees, grass, weather, etc.  They only reluctantly referred us to the allergen because they did not believe he had a food allergy.  I was so confused and just could not believe that this was happening to him, to us, to ME!  I loved eggs and could not imagine a world without them.   I was pretty much stuck in the stage for a while.  Even now I find myself sliding back into the denial mindset at times when all I want to do is order an omelet or a waffle.  I am at times tempted to just slip him some benadryl and hand him a cupcake anyway.  Once his reaction begins, though, I know without a doubt that this is real.  This is his life, our life, MY life.

Anger: Once I realize that this is our life, this anger swells up inside.  Why is this happening to my child?  Why is this happening to ME?  What did I do to deserve this?  At times I get trapped in this stage and find myself ranting.  I get angry at the world for not being more understanding, angry at family and friends for not being as angry as I am, angry at myself for not being able to end this.  The anger eats at me, tearing away any resolve I may have had in order to combat the food allergy.  Anger sometimes causes me to make mistakes.  For instance, I was so wrapped up in a comment made by a friend about how much my child inconveniences get-togethers, that I was careless in packing my son’s lunch.  Had it not been for the careful eye of his teachers my child could have eaten a food item he isn’t allowed.  That was a huge wake-up call for me.

Bargaining: As I learn to cope with DR’s food allergies, I find myself slacking at times.  During these periods of time, I am over the amount of time that goes into preparing for meals.  Typically, a grocery store trip takes me 2-3 hours due to having to read all ingredient list several times.  When I’m feeling pressed for time, I sometimes skip reading items I have seen before or getting items that say “May be processed on equipment with peanuts and eggs.”  I got lazy and stopped reading the ingredients of some of DR’s favorite Kroger brand fruit bars.  I figured this was worth the gamble.  It nearly cost us DR.  Within a month’s time the company started using eggs in their bars.  We were lucky his reaction was only hives, but I have since learned that there is no easy way out of this mess.

Depression:  This is probably the most difficult stage for me.  I have tangled with this stage many times.  I catch myself thinking that this may very well be how our lives are forever:  constantly worrying that something will happen, that someone will be careless.  In these moments, I want to hug my son closer, never let him go, and stay locked up at home away from everyone.   This is craziness, I know, but the dangers lurking around every corner are enough to drive anyone to tears.

Acceptance:  This stage has been more difficult for me to grasp. As you will probably learn from other blog posts, I am a fighter and a pusher.  I believe in advocating for anyone who cannot do it for himself.  I work to protect my son by calling ahead to any restaurant, event, or party we may go to in order to see what options are available.  I learned to cook (somewhat) and bake in order to know what he is eating.  I prepare all friends, family, teachers, and sitters for what he needs and what responsibilities they have.  However, the other stages can bog me down, and I forget everything I’ve already learned.  What I have found is that taking care of myself and finding practical strategies to cope will not only help me, but my son as well in the long run.  I recently came across an amazing blog post detailing the Top 4 Tips* for coping with food allergy stress.  These are simple strategies and take very little time or effort.

As with anything else, life with food allergies is fluid and always changing.  Remembering to take care of yourself is important and be the factor you need to turn everything around.

~Lacey

*Permission granted by Emma W. to link to “Feeling Stressed?  Top 4 Tips :)”

 

 

 

10 phrases allergy moms “love” to hear

  1. How allergic is your child?  When I tell someone my child has a food allergy, I’m telling them so that my child can avoid the allergen.  It doesn’t matter “how” allergic he is.  He doesn’t need the food, and we don’t need the agony of an allergic reaction.
  2. Is he really allergic or do you just not want him to have sweets? Of course I don’t want to constantly shove sweets down my child’s throat, but just because he can’t have certain foods does not mean I don’t let him have sweets.  Besides, why would you ask a mother (whether or not she has a child with food allergies) if you can give her child sweets?  Why can’t you offer my child an apple or even better a non-food item like stickers?
  3. I feel bad that he can’t have the same food as other kids.  I don’t want him to feel left out.  Most moms of children with food allergies come prepared with alternative options for their children.  While the children may feel a little left out from not getting to eat certain foods it is far better than the alternative of them eating the foods and having a reaction.
  4. Ugh…my life is so inconvenienced by your child’s food allergy.  Why do daycares, schools, airplanes and public buildings have to be peanut free?  First, if you seriously can’t wait until you get home to eat your peanut items, then maybe you have a bit of an issue?  Second, the severity of some allergies like peanuts differ from person to person.  Some people react just by touching an item that someone who had peanuts earlier touched.  It’s like with the flu.  If you have the flu virus you shouldn’t be bringing it out into public where it can hurt others.  Just keep your peanuts and your flu at home and to yourself.
  5. How long has it been since your child has tried this food? Maybe he’s built up a tolerance.  Yes, some people may grow out of their food allergies, but some of them may get worse.  Currently, there is no way to know either way.   There are some research efforts underway to see if there is a cure for food allergies.  No, we will not test his tolerance right now in a non-medical environment without his doctor’s consent just because you want to see if he reacts.  I can tell you that I am probably losing my tolerance for you.
  6. You must have eaten too much of that food during your pregnancy or while you were breastfeeding! You must be ignorant. Thank you for blaming me for my child’s medical condition though. Bless your heart. Do your own research and know that we blame ourselves enough for our children’s reactions without others trying to blame us too.
  7. Giving them a little bite won’t hurt. Right, and neither will letting them hold a rattlesnake. To allergy moms those two things are equal. Both could kill our child. Let me say that again to make it clear: ONE BITE COULD KILL MY CHILD. I’m not willing to take that chance. You shouldn’t be either. Killing people is frowned upon last time I checked.
  8. Oh, they’ll grow out of it. We actually want this. We desperately want our child to grow out of their food allergies. For them and for us. Unfortunately we don’t know if that will happen. Neither does my child’s allergist. I’m so glad you know though.
  9. It was processed in a plant/on a conveyor belt/on a counter top with the allergen, but it doesn’t have the allergen in it.  It should be safe. If it wasn’t potentially dangerous, then why do the products have to tell you they were processed near the allergen?  What if your favorite food item said processed by someone who had the flu or TB?  Would you feel comfortable chancing contamination?
  10. This one we will never hear said to our face. We’ve heard others say it about other allergy moms when they don’t realize we are listening or don’t realize we are also allergy moms. They’re just doing it for attention, I doubt their child even HAS a food allergy. Don’t be this person. This person is not a nice person to be. Please know that we are not seeking attention. Most of us HATE having to ask what ingredients are in everything when we are at a restaurant, a person’s house, on vacation, etc. I don’t like inconveniencing people. I hate it. I’m a southern girl to my core and I love making people feel at ease. I’m way out of my comfort zone when I have to seek people out to ask questions. I will do it for my child’s safety EVERY SINGLE TIME no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. I can assure you if I could take it away from them I would in a heartbeat.

This post is not intended for people who genuinely care about our children’s safety. If you are asking us questions that are intended to really help our child or if you are wanting to know details so that you can make them or give them a safe treat we welcome that. We always know your intentions as soon as you speak though. We can tell when you are a caring person and when you’re just trying to be a busybody or a tush.

~Hope & Lacey~

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It’s not always a death sentence

Much of the time I feel like food allergies is such a negative part of our lives.  I spend the majority of my time checking food items, planning meals, and worrying about situations beyond my control.  However, food allergies don’t always have to be a death sentence.

My son JN just turned one in May.  For months I dreaded it, after witnessing other children who react after their first bites of birthday cake, not with joy and excitement, but with itching, hives, and the inability to breathe.  Since his older brother DR is already diagnosed with both an egg and peanut allergy we knew that we could not go the traditional birthday route with cake and candies, but we still wanted to make it fun.

For DR’s first birthday we did the traditional smash cake photos and did not want JN to be left out.  So our alternative to the traditional cake smash was a  watermelon smash which gave birth to JN’s “One-in-a-Melon” themed birthday.   Click the link to view the photo gallery by the amazing Ashley Brown of E&J photography: One in a Melon. We had so much fun planning and implementing this party and photo shoot.  All of it was allergy-free.

We did end up making cupcakes, but they were of course allergy-free (except for wheat, which could easily be done).

cupcakes

~Lacey

 

Egg-zema

When DR was four months old we noticed a small, red, scaly patch on his cheek.  At his check-up, the pediatrician told us it was eczema.  We were advised to keep it moisturized.  This was in August in the mountains of NC.  The weather up to this point of his life had been sunny and warm.  We were not at all prepared for what happens to eczema during the dry, frozen days of winter.

As the winter approached, DR’s eczema got exponentially worse, spreading to his hands, arms, feet, legs, back, torso, and the rest of his face.  The only part of his body that was not affected was everything covered by a diaper.

He celebrated his first 6 months of life in October, and we began feeding him foods.  Still the eczema spread and worsened.  We were told at that check-up that food allergies were a possibility due to family history of allergies to tree nuts and peanuts; however, they wouldn’t test for them until he was a year old or had a severe reaction.

Before his first birthday, DR had two different hospital admissions due to dehydration from normal childhood illnesses.  This caused his skin to worsen to the point that it was literally peeling off.

At this point, he had several rounds of oral and topical steroids and antihistamine.  No matter what we tried, though, there was never complete relief.  Due to constantly having to use these medications, we could not see an allergist.  Finally, when he was 18 months old we made it a week without medications and met with an allergist.  At this appointment we discovered his egg allergy.

From that moment forward, we cut egg from his diet as best as we could.  When he accidentally had an egg product, his rash would flare up.  However, cutting it out completely did not rid him of all the eczema.

In an attempt to make it better, we made the decision to move to Savannah, GA where the temperatures are steady and warm year round and the salt water in the air is considered healing.  After a couple of unexplained flare ups, we went in for another allergy test. We discovered his peanut allergy, so we cut that from his diet as well.

His skin is remarkably better now, with flare ups fewer and farther between.  We have hope that vigilance on our part and the possibility of outgrowing the allergies will end his eczema for good.  Who would have thought that something like a food allergy could impact another medical issue so much.

~ Lacey