Clark has a cough. Not a little cough. Like a seal barking, tight sounding, horrible cough that has made him wheezy and out of breath. He is raspy and congested and sometimes has runny eyes and a stuffy nose. Oh, and did I mention that Clark has had this cough since NOVEMBER? Yes, that’s right. Clark, my 10 month old, has had this horrible cough for 6 months. 60% of his life. Seems crazy right? Yes, I think so too.
Back in November, I thought he must be getting a cold. So did urgent care when they gave him steroids and gave me a list of things to do to help him get over it. We did steam and cool mist, we suctioned his nose and kept his head elevated while sleeping. I asked some of my natural parenting groups for advice and we rubbed on GOOT (Look that up, it does help some coughs!) I took mega doses of vitamin C in the hope that it would transfer through my milk and I tried some elderberry tincture. Everything seemed to help a little and then not really at all and the cough came back.
Clark coughed through the holidays and the doctor decided to try a round of antibiotics. Against my better judgement I allowed it, desperate for the cough to end. I asked her if it could be a reaction to something in his environment. She said, “No, it is just a viral thing, but this has been going on a long time so I want to make sure it doesn’t turn into a bacterial infection.” Ten days later, the cough was gone. Three days later it was back. I will never forget the morning I ran from the bedroom to the living room with my baby in my arms, frantically trying to help him catch his breath, unsure what to do or how to help but unable to just sit there while he coughed so hard he turned purple and shook. I tried to pat his back, suction his mouth… He finally gasped for air and then lay on my chest exhausted while I cried inconsolably.
So, we went back to the doctor in January. Mike took him since I had to work and they called me from the room so I could ask our doctor questions. He showed her a video of Clark’s belly and chest retracting while he wheezed the night before in the steamy bathroom. This time she tested him for RSV and whooping cough, influenza and the common cold. The common cold came back positive. More mist, more steam, more steroids. The cough stayed.
In February we saw another doctor in the practice because our regular doctor was off. I asked if she thought he could have an allergy to something. She kind of rolled her eyes and said, “No, no, no. He has a virus. Babies get tons of viruses. He puts his hands in his mouth all of the time! This is just having kids in daycare.” And I don’t completely disagree! My other two kids are in daycare. They get colds and viruses all of the time… but this was different. None of my babies had been this sick, ever. Besides, they weren’t coming down with this neverending virus and they can’t keep their hands off of Clark! We left that day with a prescription for “Give it time.” More sleepless nights and missed work and so much fear. I began dreading the evenings. I was anxious and sick with worry and couldn’t stop staring at Clark even when he was sleeping peacefully. We would have good nights and bad nights, but the cough wasn’t going away. He had more scary fits where his whole body would stiffen and shake while he hacked and turned colors. I felt like no one was taking us seriously.
In March, tired of seeing us I am sure, our doctor decided to try breathing treatments every four hours and another dose of steroids until the cough went away. We did that for almost two weeks and his cough loosened and the treatments seemed to help the wheezing and raspy breathing at night! We moved into a different house and though he would cough once in awhile, it wasn’t horrible sounding like it had been for months. A record 18 days went by without a nerve wracking night of staring at my son as he worked to breathe, wondering if we’d end up in the ER. We celebrated, imagining that it was something in the other house and crossed our fingers that the cough was gone for good. And then… the cough came back.
I scheduled another appointment with our doctor to have her listen to his lungs but I also decided enough was enough and I called an allergist. I no longer believed, and hadn’t for awhile, that this was due to a virus. I really felt that there was an underlying issue. Either an environmental allergy or a anatomical issue with his throat or airways. It just seemed impossible that he could have a virus for six months straight with no fever and remain in wonderful spirits. I let her know at the appointment and she said she felt that that was an appropriate decision at this point.
We continued with the breathing treatments and waited for the allergist appointment. His cough followed the same pattern as always: Terrible and tight for 2-3 days. Terrible but looser for 2-3 days. Less frequent and looser for 2-3 days. Repeat. Two days before his appointment he woke up at 4:00 am with croup again and was congested, stuffy and watery eyed the next day. When we finally went into the allergist’s office, you could hear the mucous rattling in his chest. I explained all of the details to the allergist and he agreed that it sounded like a reaction to something. He decided to do allergy skin testing for 20 common allergens. I held Clark on my lap on the table while the nurse poked his back. He looked surprised and sad but only cried for a minute before his attention returned to the loud crinkly paper on the exam table.
After 15 minutes there were 2 welts out of 20 showing a reaction on Clark’s back. It wasn’t dog, cat or grass like I would have bet my life on though. It was eggs. Egg white and egg yolk. It was like one of those cartoon lightbulbs flipped on in my head. I breastfeed. I eat eggs. In baked goods, on their own, and mostly on weekends… when Clark ends up restarting his entire cough and wheeze cycle. Sunday nights and Monday mornings have always been the worst. Probably because we go out to breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings and I enjoy eggs and bacon or an omelet! Clark had previously broken out in hives when I gave him scrambled egg so I stopped. I never imagined that he would react to eggs through me.
The doctor came back into the room and said, “Well, that will do it! Clark has a serious allergy to eggs.” I explained that I breastfeed and he smiled and said, “Yeah, no eggs for you either. He probably became sensitized through your milk and then reacted himself when you fed him eggs directly.” I was surprised to find that a food allergy would create the kind of respiratory symptoms that Clark has experienced and the Doctor said in children that it is definitely possible, though skin reactions for food allergies are more common. So, Clark is on a daily dose of Zyrtec and we are both on an egg-free diet. We will see the allergist again in a month and he hopes that Clark will be symptom free by that time as it takes a couple of weeks for the egg protein to be completely out of our bodies. We discussed a few other things such as Clark having enlarged tonsils and that he may end up with an asthma diagnosis later on. But for now, he is confident that we can get this cough under control and hopefully make my sweet baby feel better!
So, parents! Be an advocate for your child. If something doesn’t feel right, investigate it even if the doctor disagrees with you. I wish I would have gone with my gut months ago and had him see the allergist. I could have saved him so much suffering and myself a lot of worry!