It was a perfectly innocuous Mother’s Day breakfast that booted us into a new way of life. And the morning had started so well: just a couple of night-time wake-ups and a respectable 7am start from our five month-old baby boy. Flowers (pink and yellow) delivered to the door. Cards. A cup of tea in bed. And scrambled eggs on toast.
Then, not long after, we noticed an odd rash developing on his little stick legs: white, bumpy, like nettle stings. Within minutes the lumps had spread to his throat and chin. My husband was quick to act: he carries an EpiPen for a ridiculous list of food intolerances that transform him into Elephant Man when combined with vigorous exercise. He recognised the hives straight away and, taking no chances, got on the phone to the out of hours doc. They said: “Call an ambulance.”
So the rest of my first Mother’s Day was spent, memorably enough, languishing in a Hackney A&E. A syringe full of antihistamine saw off the lumps and bumps but we were baffled as to what had caused this reaction when he was still solely breastfed. Was it the flowers? Pollen in the early spring air? Something in his eczema creams? The paediatric team couldn’t say, really: just go straight back to the GP or A&E if it happens again.
Barely a month later it did, and this time the cause was blindingly obvious. I gave him his first taste of banana. Within minutes there were red splodges where the mash had touched his skin, and soon hives had spread across his face and neck. So, another dash to the doc for antihistamines and a request, now, for specialist referral.
We were due to go on holiday to Greece just a couple of weeks later and the wait to see an allergy specialist on the NHS would be at least three months, we were told. Panicked as to what might have caused it, and worried about whether the next reaction would be more serious, we booked to see an NHS consultant privately.
He asked us to run through exactly what had happened on the morning of the first reaction. We blathered on about pollen and flowers, skin creams, floor cleaners. He asked what we had eaten. Scrambled eggs, we said. ‘That’ll be it’, he said. He hadn’t even eaten any, we protested, stupidly.
But the results of a skin prick test confirmed it: our baby was quite definitely allergic to egg. Apparently even the tiniest trace on our hands, unwittingly transferred to his skin when we were applying his creams, would have been enough to trigger the hives.
Of course we weren’t surprised when banana threw up a positive (though who the hell had ever heard of banana allergy?). Possibly wheat and latex, too, though the results were borderline. And the trump card – peanuts. Crap.