Asthma, Eczema, and Allergies…Oh Dye! Guest Post by Erin Deschene

I am Erin, a wife and stay-at-home mother of three living in the Cincinnati, OH area.  We love going to exciting places together from museums and zoos to parks and historical sites.  I blog about our adventures at, and we explore the world happily…dye-free.  

As I look at the Epi Pen and inhaler I now carry in my purse, I wonder how we got here.  My son doesn’t suffer from a typical peanut, milk or shellfish allergy.  He is allergic to food coloring. 

Yes, he is allergic.

Michael is almost six now and we have lived a dye-free life for about three years.  I have intense fear about what could happen if he did eat coloring.  

When Michael was just over a year, he got sick and needed to be put on a nebulizer.  At the time, we thought it would be a temporary thing.  About a year later, that nebulizer had become a fairly common sight, and so did eczema.  I never connected the two, and neither did any of the doctors who began telling me he had asthma.  

I always rebelled against that asthma diagnosis; I just didn’t believe it.  He was young.  He didn’t seem to wheeze or cough when running. He would go months or weeks with no problems.  It made no sense to me.  The doctors told me it was “more than likely allergy-induced asthma.” So, allergy tests were run and he wasn’t allergic to anything.  I was frustrated, and my now 2-year-old seemed even more frustrated by the steroid medicines he was on to “help” his asthma. 

I began reading The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien. In it she talks about her child’s eczema and how it went away when she removed food coloring from his diet.  An impressively interesting read, I thought maybe there was something in Michael’s diet causing the eczema.  I didn’t even think about the asthma.  I was beginning to think it was just going to be a part of our life. 

He ate a pretty “clean” diet, since he was so young, but I removed the occasional M&M or sprinkles.  My husband didn’t quite believe me (even if he is fully in agreement now). We removed artificial coloring and THE ECEZMA WENT AWAY!  YEAH!

Weeks later, I remember being at a friend’s second birthday party.  I allowed Michael to have the birthday cake with its crazy bright artificial frosting.  The eczema was back that night.  

I didn’t put it all together at first. It was probably six months later when I realized that we hadn’t needed the nebulizer anymore.  As I did more research I realized that these artificial dyes could aggravate or cause asthma.  

I told every allergist and pediatrician (and yes, I went to about five different ones).  No one believed me.  It was so frustrating.  They would tell me his chart said he had asthma, so he had asthma.  And there isn’t a real allergy to food coloring.  

My second son, Daniel was born.  One night I accidentally gave him Tylenol with dye.  He woke up the next morning with horrible grooved eczema on his previously soft baby tummy.  He has not had any food coloring since.

We kept avoiding artificial coloring in all its forms and were constantly frustrated by the medical community.  

Shortly after our move to Cincinnati, we went to visit an allergist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  Although he wasn’t convinced, he did run an allergy test for food dyes on both boys.  Not all colors are available to be tested and he warned about results not necessarily “meaning anything.”  

Michael’s results came back as highly allergic to Reds and Yellows (the only colors they could test for).  Amazingly, Daniel’s were negative.  The allergist basically told us that the results meant nothing because it’s a foreign substance.  We all should have a negative reaction to unnatural substances.  

The doctor told us just to avoid food coloring if we had observed some aversions to it. I was worried about Michael’s possible reaction and wanted an Epi pen, just in case.  I was not given one by the allergist. 

Michael started pre-school.  I discussed his allergy with the teachers.  I wanted him to wear gloves while painting.  They said that would make him stand out, so I agreed to let him paint without gloves.  A few times during the year he would come home with paint still on his arms or hands.  That night he would inevitably start that 3 AM cough and it would last for about 3 nights.  

I have a wonderful pediatrician here and I finally went to him with my concerns for Michael.  He agreed with me, we don’t know what would happen if Michael had food coloring.  We are better safe than sorry, and he prescribed an Epi Pen.  The more the doctor heard about the coughing (a typical asthma cough), the more concerned he became.  He also gave Michael an inhaler and suggested I carry these things with us at all times.  

We take it seriously.  We have been without artificial coloring for about three years now. It hasn’t been that difficult because I am with my kids almost all the time.  And for the few hours when they are at pre-school, I pack their snacks.  

We are entering a new world…Kindergarten.  It petrifies me at times.  We have an allergy action plan ready for school.  And only his home packed snacks and treats will be allowed.

I know the other children will have snacks with coloring in them, and I’ve already seen the peer pressure starting.  We have our first no-parents birthday party coming up and I’m so worried something will get by.  

I sometimes feel self conscious and find myself over explaining the allergy to many non-believers.  Yet, if they think I’m a hippie, organic-loving tree-hugger, so be it.  I know from all the research that my children are better off without the lead and mercury laden coloring.  

Thanks to Erin for sharing her story!  Her mom instincts were spot on, and she was persistent in getting her son the help he needed.  Share her story with friends and teachers who may not realize that synthetic food coloring can be a real allergic problem.  Please post any questions for Erin in a comment below.

12 Responses to “Asthma, Eczema, and Allergies…Oh Dye! Guest Post by Erin Deschene”
  1. Marsha says:

    Thank you Erin!
    We also have a food dye allergy. It’s redeeming to find someone else. We have an Epi pen too. Thankfully we have never had to use it but doctor is concerned about his heightened reactions. My son’s (4 yr old) finger nails and toe nails have fallen off with food dye and caramel coloring exposure. (When he played with Play doh… his finger nails peeled off.) He also has behavior issues when he’s eaten any petroleum based products. As we are getting ready to start pre-school this year (I’m a basket case!)… I’m trying to collect natural dye paints, play dough and such to allow him to participate. I hope the school is cooperative.

    Thanks again for sharing! I’m sure you have helped others.

  2. Jill says:

    Thank you, Erin. I have an 18 month old and I am trying to keep him away from artificial colors and dyes.
    Your arrival was really insightful!

  3. Nicole says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I struggle with getting a formal medical diagnosis for my children’s reaction to food dyes and wondered what the name of the allergy testing was they did at the Cinncinnati Children’s hospital? I have been working on removing all dyes, artificial perservatives as well as gluten and dairy from my kids diets over the last year thanks to the help of Chiro that also does nuitrition response testing. My ped. does not take me seriously regarding the dye reaction (yes she is one that gives our dum dum lollipops) but is trying to appease my food and additive allergy concerns by referring us to an allergist for testing. I want to do it just to see what things I may not be aware of however I also want them to test for food dye so I can have a formal letter for my school. My daughter is now 6. We got through kindergarten and daycare by having a meeting with school officials outlining what dietary concerns we have and asking them to work with us so they do not feed her anything but water or what we send in for her while she is there. We had a trade in box with safe goodies for her to trade in when other things she could not have were brought into the classroom. The teacher communicated with me when there were lessons plans or celebrations that would involve food so I could make appropriate subsititions. It worked pretty well and now my daughter happily trades in the bad stuff for stuff she can have that won’t make her feel bad. I have observed her from afar when offered something she could not have tell them she would have to ask her parents first which makes me very proud of how she is adapting and also finally recognizing on some level how badly the stuff with the dyes in it makes her feel. My advice to you when working with the school is to have the meeting and see it as an opportunity to enlighten and educate them however go into it with the attitude the you will need to be the one that works to make the accommodations don’t expect them to change policies, etc. or you will most likely be disappointed. Our school is not at all progressive in handly the many food allergies children face today and see it as a case by case issue. Fortunately I was able to work things out and did not have many cases of adverse reactions! Best of luck as you begin the journey of navigating school with children with food allergies.

  4. Gloves may make him “stand out” but so does an anaphylactic reaction! There’s a girl at our Little Gym who has to wear socks all the time. No one else wears socks. And none of the kids have even NOTICED! A lot of these social issues are unfounded worries from ADULTS. Let him wear the gloves at school, and if HE feels like it’s an issue, if HE feels ostracized, if HE doesn’t like what the other kids are saying, then let HIM decide if he’d rather suffer the talk or suffer the asthma!
    My 4-year-old decided for herself she didn’t like how the dyes make her feel, so she refuses to eat even safe snacks, vetted by her teachers. She’ll only eat the one I pack for her, at her request. She hears the ice cream truck tinkling past, and says she won’t go out there, their ice cream is yucky. And she turns down BIRTHDAY CAKE even if I forgot to bring an alternative for her. For her, it’s almost like she feels special and proud and ABOVE the rest because of this, rather than standing out because something is WRONG with her, if that makes any sense.

  5. The doctor we saw the last time my son had a dye reaction (scary eye swelling) refuses to take it seriously. He has told us that you “can’t be allergic to dye” and thinks its all in our heads. I don’t know if he’s ignorant to the growing problem with food dyes or if he is in denial. He isn’t our regular pediatrician, he’s supposedly an allergy specialist.

  6. Natalie says:

    What a wonderful page I’ve stumbled across! I understand your story all to well, even though we have some clear differences with our kids. My son can not eat food coloring either, or most preservatives, hormones, and added antibiotics. He also does not have the exact same reaction your boys do. Its terrible having to try to find food that is safe for them. AND hope they will pick out food that is safe to eat when you aren’t around. Food coloring, and the rest of our list, has turned our world upside down. We haven’t found any medication that will subside Tommy’s side effects when he has accidentally ingested that junk. I HATE food coloring. I really see no need for it what so ever. I do not understand why companies have to put it in foods or medications. I’ve even had to go as far as to carefully washing color off of pills before my son can take them. I’ve gotten plain jell caps from a health food store and take medication out of its colorful jell caps to put into the plain ones. I’ve learned to make my own yogurt, sausage and many other things. I’ve tried to figure out gummies, those are difficult. All the birthday cakes and frostings are home made. Ice cream though, he loves ben and jerry’s. We now have an 8 month old baby, who, we will not let have food coloring. We are not willing to try out that road again. Good luck to you <3 Natalie D

  7. Christina R. says:

    Wow I never thought that food dyes were that bad! Interesting blog, it’s nice to see that there are sites like this dedicated to helping people live better lives and clear their eczema! 🙂

  8. NoVA Twin Mom says:

    Thank you all for sharing your stories and experiences. I am so grateful to have discovered this site to give validity to my suspicions.

    We discovered last month on our twins’ 3rd birthday that my daughter is severely allergic to red food dye. While decorating her birthday cupcake with pink sprinkles she rubbed her eyes, brushing hair off her face, and immediately broke out in hives all over her face. The night before she had complained of being itchy, and had hives on her legs after eating a half-dozen red M&Ms. Fortunately, I had taken photos to show our pediatrician, who believed us, and immediately prescribed and Epipen.

    We have our first appointment with an allergist in three days. Are there any specific tests we should request? Or other related allergies we should be concerned about?

    She has also had terrible raw, weeping wound diaper rash (which led to withholding/constipation issues for the past year) that now, in hindsight, I believe were hives caused by red food dye! I feel terrible that my baby has been suffering for so long. As soon as we eliminated the dye 4 weeks ago her rash has healed completely! I have no doubt her gastro issues are tied to red dye, and I wonder what else may be affecting her?!?

    Marsha – I’m so sorry to read about the severity of your son’s reactions and, as my twins have just entered preschool, have asked their teachers to be aware of if/how she reacts to red paint, play-doh, etc. Thank you for sharing your experience as I would not have thought to ask on my own!

    Fortunately, my son, her twin, does not appear to be affected by dyes, but does have Reactive Airway Disease, or illness induced asthma that crops up if he has a bad cold.

    • Indie Mama says:

      Yellow dye has been implicated in asthma, so perhaps watch your son’s intake of yellow dyes. As for testing, how did that go? I have heard that some folks order the ALCAT test for food sensitivities.

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