Goodbye Cheese, Goodbye Wheeze!

For the last two years, my breathing and lung capacity have made going for a jog painful. I’d attempt a run, then a few minutes later I’d be wheezing like the old Buick Regal I drove in college as it huffed and puffed over Oahu’s Pali Highway. Subconsciously I began adapting my workouts to those of the less aerobic variety: yoga and Pilates. For a cardio queen like me, I should’ve paid more mind to my slow shift from 40 minute runs to 55 minute Pilates classes. I should’ve listened to my body sooner. Strength training and core conditioning are wonderful, but there’s no substitute for revving the human engine like a 6-mile run.

My lungs were trying to communicate. My hubby and I began to wonder if I had adult-onset asthma, or worse, lung cancer. My coughing fits would wake me (and him) in the middle of the night. I always felt like I was fighting a cold.

Slowly suspecting that there was a causal connection between my food intake and my breathing difficulties, I began to notice that whenever I’d eat cheese or other dairy products that my nose would start to run, my throat would feel constricted and my chest would tighten. But, as a semi-vegetarian who subsisted almost entirely on grains, dairy products, some fruits and veggies, and fish, in that order,  I couldn’t picture cutting out ALL dairy products. Besides, maybe it was the smog clogged Los Angeles air or my two dogs or a lingering infection… ANYTHING but CHEESE!

I just couldn’t picture an afternoon without my daily Greek yogurt. I couldn’t picture my favorite – the wet, cheese topped burrito-without that which gave it so much zing, mouth-watering Mexican jack cheese. I couldn’t picture a life without 3-cheese pizza and cream cheese smothered bagels. And Parmesan! What was vegetarian spaghetti without its crowning glory, 1/2 a cup of Parmesan cheese?

But, I also couldn’t picture feeling that way much longer. I’d even had to lay down on the mat in my last yoga class to catch my breath. I just did not feel good, most of the time. There had to be something I could DO.

So, armed with my new PPO health plan (I switched to my husband’s plan after we married), I scanned my provider’s website for an allergy and asthma doctor in West Los Angeles. By name alone I arrived at the doctors of SneezeWheeze.Com. I am a sucker for clever branding, even if it’s cheesy (hehe). The reception staff was friendly and upbeat and when I asked for their “best doctor” they booked me with Dr. Raffi Tachdjian.

Dr. Raffi was incredible. He spent hours with me – discussing my hunches (milk and dog allergies), my history (some childhood bronchial infections), and my desires (to run wheeze free). We scheduled the allergy scratch test for a few weeks later and Dr. Raffi sent me off with samples of nasal sprays and an inhaler.

I first learned about the skin test for allergies, from my co-worker. She’s had allergies her entire life and came to work one day after an allergy doctor appointment where she had just been re-tested. She took off her sweatshirt to show me a line of red blotches dotting her upper arm. “This,” she explained, “Is how they tell if I’m still allergic to carrots and soy.” I was intrigued. Even then I suspected that I too suffered from food allergies.

Three weeks later, as I lay down face first on Dr. Raffi’s examination table, I was excited and not because Dr. Raffi is almost as good looking as my hubby. The lovely nurse accompanying him informed me that I’d feel a series of pricks on my back. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it didn’t feel good either. But soon I’d know what to avoid in my environment and what to exclude from my plate. Hopefully in doing so I’d finally feel better. The nasal sprays had done wonders, while the inhaler had simply loosened my chest. I was still wheezing as of that visit.

“Don’t scratch it,” she instructed, “I’ll be back in 15 minutes to check on you.”

The truth was hard to hear. I am allergic to cow’s milk. Though I had had a hunch, it hadn’t prevented me from gorging on cheddar cubes at holiday parties. The hunch hadn’t prevented me from adding extra cheese to my medium Domino’s pizza, either.

Dr. Raffi advised that I cut dairy out cold turkey. “The body can change and get over certain allergies,” he explained. He said we’d re-test in 3 months, but in the meantime I’d have to eliminate cow’s milk products all together.

I left thinking this wouldn’t be too hard. I’d just lay off the cheese and cut out yogurt. I didn’t drink cow’s milk, so eliminating that would be a breeze. But like I do with the vigor and zest of a seasoned sleuth, I took my confirmed allergy to google and began my hunt for more knowledge.

The site I’ve listed below was one of my favorites. Unfortunately though they delivered a crushing blow, cow’s milk is in everything!

Foodallergy.org recommended that I avoid the following, very extensive list, of cow’s milk derived products.

Avoid foods that contain milk or any of these ingredients:
butter, butter fat, butter oil, butter
acid, butter ester(s)
buttermilk
casein
casein hydrolysate
caseinates (in all forms)
cheese
cottage cheese
cream
curds
custard
diacetyl
ghee
half-and-half
lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
lactoferrin
lactose
lactulose
milk (in all forms, including condensed, derivative, dry, evaporated, goat’s milk and milk from other animals, low fat, malted, milkfat, nonfat, powder, protein, skimmed, solids, whole)
milk protein hydrolysate
pudding
Recaldent®
rennet casein
sour cream, sour cream solids
sour milk solids
tagatose
whey (in all forms)
whey protein hydrolysate
yogurt

Yikes!!!! No butter on my toast? Really!?

Check out a few interesting milk allergy blogs I discovered in my search. http://milkallergymom.blogspot.com/, http://www.godairyfree.org/

It’s been over a month since I began the process of eliminating dairy from my diet. I’ve slipped up many times. I ate croissants over Christmas and gobbled down a piece of pie, both of which include butter as a main ingredient. While my reaction wasn’t as severe as the one I experience with yogurt or cheese, I still didn’t feel good after indulging in those buttery treats (not to mention their empty calorie-ness and high sugar content which may have contributed to the resulting malaise).

My friends were so inspired by my story that one of them, the Skin Owl herself, also decided to get tested for allergies. She discovered that she is allergic to an ingredient in one of her face creams, a non-Skin Owl product that she employed to prevent inflammation was doing just that – irritating her skin because to her, it was an allergen! Incredibly indispensible knowledge was gleaned from just one trip to Dr. Raffi and his team.

It’s been getting easier and easier, as I incorporate more fruits and veggies and fish into my diet. I’m eating less pasta, a typically fiber free food unless you go with whole wheat pasta (bleh), which I once smothered with parmesan and mozzarella. And I’m truly feeling like a new person. Fitness has always been my medicine – the recipe for a happy me – but now, in finally listening to my body and doing something about it, I’ve finding that my food choices can be medicine too!

If you are a Southern California resident experiencing breathing problems or mysterious rashes or just want to know for sure how you might be reacting to your environment, I recommend you call my buddies at SneezeWheeze.com today or another health care provider that can administer the allergy scratch test.

2 Comments

  1. I have asthma and am extremely lactose intolerant. People think it’s a joke, saying that you are lactose intolerant. “Oh you can just take one of those pills, right?” Of course not, not when my body doesn’t make a drop of the stuff that takes care of lactose. Oh and like you were saying, about how milk is in everything. Yeah, tell me about it! I don’t have to be as extensive as you because I’m just allergic to the lactose in milk, but almost everything processed has whey (a protein lactose intolerant people can’t handle) or milk somewhere in the ingredients. Like you, I have some weak moments, mostly when I go home to visit the family or go on holiday, but I always feel terrible later. I’ve been wanting to get prick tested. Maybe I will after reading your post. Maybe I should become Vegan haha! Thanks for your post.

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