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OMG, what do you mean gluten free????

It’s July 2010 and I’m just about to get on a plane to Sydney when I realize that once again, there is a sore on my leg which is infected. This is the fourth lot of infected eczema I’ve had since April. Two days later, having soldiered on through two days of meetings and trainings and bled all over hotel sheets, I’m flying back to NZ, my entire lower body covered with boil like pustules. I can’t walk without pain, my winter boots have pressed on two particularly nasty sores around my ankles during the day and then the 3-hour plane ride, and I hobble to my car like an old woman. A visit to the emergency doctor the next morning gives me my 5th lot of antibiotics this year.

A visit to my normal doctor the next day is incredibly good. She spends 45 minutes with me, we talk management strategies, moisturizers, and decide it’s time to be tested again for food allergies. This is now a simple blood test, called a RAST test, and can be done at any diagnostic laboratories. Just note that it’s a fasting test. I leave her office feeling much more positive.

I have a lifelong history of eczema, beginning when I was about a year old. Probably it was a genetic susceptibility, along with the inherited asthma, but was almost certainly triggered by the eggs and cows’ milk I was given from 5 months onwards, as was the norm in the mid-60s. At its worst, when I was 6 years old, I had 6 weeks off school. My recollection of that time is having my parents smear some incredibly sticky smelly yellow stuff all over me before bed, and having to have a bath the next morning to soak off my pyjamas.

In England, when I was in my late 20’s, I had some experimental tests which showed up a caffeine intolerance (along with a few other things, including chocolate, although these were less serious and I could have a little now and again). Once I omitted coffee from my diet, my skin cleared up really quickly and stayed that way for quite some time.  In the wedding photos from my first wedding, my skin looks divine.

Three pregnancies, and four children, later, and my skin is bad again. I think I gave my system a hammering by breastfeeding twins for 13 months! Since then, some new foods have started to cause me problems. Red wine is out. So is caffeinated tea. These things make my face feel like it’s sunburnt from the inside and I look all swollen and elephant-woman-ish. It can’t continue – I’m sick of hauling myself into work and work events looking horrendous, and even worse, just not feeling well half the time. The infected eczema has been the final straw and I’m hoping the blood tests will show something up.

It’s late August 2010. I’ve finally come off the antibiotics, the infection is cleared away (including the persistent dermatitis I’ve had on my fingers for about 12 years) and the results are back in from the blood tests. Apparently crustaceans (lobster, shrimp, prawns, and some shellfish) are a big no-no. Also coming up is whole egg – not a huge surprise as egg yolk showed up in the tests I had done in England, and I’ve largely avoided it. Soy and dairy are both fine – huzzah! But wheat comes up as a fairly strong allergen. What does that mean, I ask the doctor? Is it just wheat or is it gluten generally? The doctor has no idea, but writes away to check, and it turns out that it is potentially anything with gluten. The recommended course of action is 6 months gluten-free and then retesting, as well as seeing if it makes any difference to the condition of my skin. After six months, you can try and introduce non-wheat gluten products and see what happens.

Still, how hard can this be? Time for some research into what products contain gluten aside from bread! Check back in with me to find out how I'm going.

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