I’ve Dyed and Gone to Heaven… or, the Frustrating Thing About Allergies

(Originally posted Nov. 4, 2015)

Allergies are frustrating things. Well, at least discovering and identifying allergies can be frustrating.

Growing up I suffered from a page full of allergies. They were so bad that I required weekly shots; of course, this was before the advent of OTC allergy medicines, with the exception of Benadryl and Chlor Trimeton. Nowadays coping with allergies is a lot easier.

Identifying allergy triggers can be difficult due to the extensive process involved. I have a vague recollection of the allergy testing I received as a child. We were living in Louisville, Kentucky, which means I was somewhere between three and six years old. The doctor’s office was downtown, and I remember walking from the car to the building and almost being blown over by the wind as it raced through the streets. I don’t remember too much of the tests themselves, but in my mind I can picture the sheet showing the results. Some of my triggers included pine trees, grass, cigarettes, etc. I cannot remember how many years I took shots, but I eventually grew out of the allergic responses.

I mention all this because we are highly suspicious that our foster son is experiencing some allergic reactions. Specifically, we believe that he is reacting to Red Dye #40 (our foster daughter, his half-sister, is not), though whether it is a true allergic reaction or simply intolerance to the dye(s) we do not know. To a lesser extent we are suspicious of his reactions to Yellow Dyes #5 & #6 as well as Red Dye #2.

What makes us suspicious? Primarily it is a behavioral response (which is also why I think it may be more of an intolerance), but there have been some hive-like skin responses. Behaviorally, the reaction is fairly obvious: he becomes hyperactive and is prone to bouts of emotional lability or pronounced mood swings.

We were first alerted to this through the experience of our good friends, who are also foster parents (of a 10 year old boy). Their foster son is labeled ADHD, carries some attachment disorder traits and is on medicine, but they began to notice that after certain foods/liquids that he would go off the charts, from extreme hyperactivity to angry outbursts. They began to look for a common trigger and through examination and internet research, the figured out that he was sensitive to food dyes. We found out when they asked us to not give him Hi-C fruit punch after church because it contains dyes.

That was several months before we received our children but the words were a godsend. Once we started to notice patterns of extreme behavior changes and mood swings, we began to examine possible food triggers. Prior to almost every incident (I am not including trauma reactions), he had consumed a food or drink containing one of the red or yellow dyes mentioned above.

Recalling advice we had received from a brain therapist who had assisted us with our second daughter and her traumatic brain injury (TBI), we implemented some dietary changes. Primarily these consisted of eliminating as many food dyes as possible and cutting back on his processed sugar intake. Fortunately, we have noticed positive results.

I began this post talking about allergy testing and the extensive process involved in identifying allergies. We have not had him tested for dye allergies yet and probably won’t for a while. If we notice other allergy responses, then by all means we will have him tested. For now, however, we are working on continuing to provide him and his sister a loving, secure and nurturing environment, knowing full well that it may not be permanent and that, unfortunately, the worst of the trauma may still lie dormant.