Ask Your Doctor the Right Questions

Posted 1.24.13 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

Food allergies and related conditions can be difficult to diagnose, especially in infants and young children. For those patients, allergy testing is often less reliable. Clinicians depend much more on discussions with the parents in order to make a diagnosis, which is sometimes an educated guess. If your little one has had symptoms that could be a result of food allergies, but you don’t yet have a firm diagnosis, be prepared for your next visit to the doctor with some helpful questions.

With these symptoms, what is a likely diagnosis?

Start by keeping a diary of your child’s symptoms. This can be very helpful, especially if the diary covers at least several days. Rather than trying to recall your child’s symptoms from memory, keep notes of the symptoms you observe, the time of day and other activities such as your little one’s feeding times. In fact, our Online Diary can be a huge help, as it organizes the information in a format that’s easy for the doctor to understand. Your child’s healthcare team will thank you!

Are there things in our family history that could help make a diagnosis?

When visiting the doctor, we have to fill out forms with questions about our family history for a reason. Children can inherit a risk of developing many medical conditions, including allergies, from parents. Physicians may forget that this valuable information is in the medical record, or they may have more specific questions than the general ones we fill out on paper. Make sure they have all of the information that could help them connect dots to find a diagnosis.

Could something other than a medical condition be causing these symptoms?

Infants and children often get sick, and many symptoms of common illnesses can mimic symptoms of allergic conditions, such as the top symptoms of a cow milk allergy. Check with the doctor to see if a common illness, recent travels, or something in the environment could be contributing to your child’s symptoms.

If this treatment works, what should I expect to see?

When a doctor suggests a way for you to manage a condition, such as with a drug, or by using a formula like Neocate, make sure you know how it should help. For instance, the symptoms of untreated GER and eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) are similar. However, the drugs sometimes used for the two conditions are different. If the diagnosis is incorrect, the prescribed drug may not help. Make sure you know what you should expect to see if the diagnosis is correct and, if the drugs aren’t helping, ask the doctor if the diagnosis may be incorrect.

Should we see a specialist?

Pediatricians and other general practice physicians know a little bit about a lot of topics, which makes them great all-around doctors. But with conditions such as allergies, they may often encounter symptoms or conditions with which they are less familiar. A pediatrician should be able to refer you and your child to the appropriate specialist when they aren’t able to provide a solution or a diagnosis. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask your child’s pediatrician if it would be helpful to see an allergist, feeding specialist or a gastroenterologist, which is a doctor who specializes in treating the gut.

Finally, make sure to read a few other blog posts that we’ve written before your next visit to the doctor. A few of my favorites are Making a Visit to the Doctor Less Scary, Tips for Talking to Your Doctor, and What to Expect at Your Next Doctor Visit.

What tips can you share with other parents to help find a diagnosis?

- Rob

Image: Microsoft Images

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About Us

Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.