It’s time for me to talk about a big part of my life that I haven’t shared all that much before. I want to tell you about it because you might find it familiar, relatable or interesting and, perhaps, we can exchange knowledge and benefit each other.
I have never had any allergies until 2017 when I started noticing that something is definitely not right, but it took a while to actually realise that I have developed an allergy to all dairy products. Big thing to mention here is that it’s not the same as lactose or dairy intolerance. It’s an allergy that results in a very visible and physically unpleasant eczema on my face. But let me go back and tell you how and why I think it came to be.
Back in 2017 I have discovered one of those recipe/products delivery services that make your cooking so much more varied and interesting. You subscribe to the service, and every week they send you 5 new recipes and all the ingredients you need to make them. This was fun! One thing it really changed about my eating habits though is the amount of dairy that those recipes had. And it was so delicious! I started cooking with Greek yoghurts, different cheeses, butter and, whereas, I would have a moderate amount of milk products throughout my life (would never limit myself), there was suddenly so much more of it and so often.
This is when I started noticing that on some evenings my right eyelid, contours of my lips and left side of my chin were getting red and itchy whilst continuing to look puffy and irritated next morning. It would be so sporadic and varied in levels of severity that I could never understand what was causing this. Back then it came and went rather quickly, was not too visible and I didn’t pay as much attention as perhaps was required. I haven’t even connected this reaction to food yet.
It all clicked during an afternoon tea event that I was attending. The moment that a scone with clotted cream touched my mouth my eyelid started itching again. I came home and Googled ‘dairy allergy on the face’ and to my shock found pictures and descriptions of the exact same eczema reaction I was having. And what I still find so crazy is that it hits the same right eyelid and left chin side in many people. Fast forward to now, and that pattern is pretty much the only thing that is still a mystery to me.
And so started a long process of double-checking whether it actually was dairy. I would stop eating it for a few months, noticing that the reaction has stopped and slowly introducing some of it back. My thoughts were, that I have ‘overdosed’ on dairy and needed to detox my system and, hopefully, go back to normal. I was actually able to go back to having an occasional meal that had dairy and not react for a while. But at some point, it seemed like it would build up again and hit me with another episode of eczema. Each time the tolerance time between those ‘episodes’ would get shorter and the lifespan of allergic reaction would get longer. Last time I had dairy (after a very, very long break) was 25th April 2019 when I had a little bit of wedding anniversary cake and a macaron in Monaco. It hit me hard after that and I haven’t had anything since. On the bright side, I haven’t had any eczema since too.
Now, there is a whole other side to this story. And this is where it got really complicated for me. Eliminating dairy wasn’t actually that difficult. I am not a big desert or cheese person, so it wasn’t so bad. Even though once I started looking at the ingredient lists on the back of products it shocked me just how many things contain dairy (including almost all crisps. And crisps I love! And can only eat salted and paprika flavoured ones now). With my allergic episodes getting more frequent and more severe, just cutting all dairy wasn’t enough any more. I would go dairy-free for days and, previously, my eczema would start going down then, but it kept getting inflamed and irritated again after certain meals. I was so confused and itchy and puffed up for weeks (my eyelid was puffed and red, peeling and ‘dragon-skin’ looking, I didn’t want to go places and for people to see me, it was becoming a problem both physically, mentally and was affecting my job, which involves a lot of socialising).
I am the kind of person who loves research and getting down to the root of the problems. One day I noticed that the inflammation gets worse after avocado and cooked spinach which baffled me as those are such healthy foods. I searched online for the products that irritate an existing eczema and there was my answer. Salicylates. What are they? Salicylates are a group of chemicals derived from salicylic acid. They are found naturally in certain foods and also synthetically produced for use in products like aspirin, toothpaste and food preservatives. Ingredients high in salicylates may worsen the condition of an existing eczema. And here came the biggest bummer. The list of what I could eat while my allergic reaction was healing became very short. There are plenty of charts online that list every possible ingredient and rank it from none to very high in the amount of salicylate, but just to name a few things that I could still eat:
- Banana and pear (the only fruits allowed)
- Meat, fish and poultry
- Green beans
- Brussel sprouts
List is a bit longer, but majority of my favourite vegetables and fruits are not on it. That’s when accepting dinner invites became next to impossible, unless I showed up with my own bowl of porridge, meat and potatoes. This discovery changed everything and I, finally, knew what I can and can’t do when trying to treat my existing eczema. My last outbreak finished in May 2019 and I was able to keep this allergy under control since. And just to repeat, the salicylate food only mattered when I already was suffering from an outbreak. I don’t need to pay attention to that any other time.
This gradual journey to understanding my gut and my body taught me a lot about inflammatory foods and processes that it causes. Cutting out dairy also ended up having a positive effect on my skin ( I started to have less spots on my face) and my stomach ( I was less bloated). They say that living in a big polluted city (like London) increases your chances of developing allergies (hay fever is one of the most common ones), the stress of our busy lives doesn’t help either. This allergy has changed my every day life in terms that I can’t just order anything I want in the restaurants or eat whatever I want without looking or asking at home or at friends houses. I also had to step out of my comfort zone and learn to have somewhat uncomfortable conversations with people who don’t understand my problem or simply don’t take it seriously, perhaps assuming that I’m exaggerating or just following a ‘trendy’ non-dairy diet.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to have dairy again, there’s just never a good time to test this.
I also had two eye-opening health check ups for food intolerances and vitamins, nutrients and minerals amounts in my body done. It explained a lot to me in terms of what supplements and probiotics I need. I really want to share those with you too, but as this post is so long already, perhaps I’ll leave it for another time.
Hope you enjoyed this share. And I would love to chat with you, hear your stories and offer advice if you need any. Please never hesitate to message me here or over on my Instagram.