Why is ‘food as medicine’ such a hard pill to swallow? 

Last year, we visited an ENT several times with our oldest. Nora seemed to have a cold or be congested for much of the late fall through early spring. When the rest of the family caught a virus and then got well, Nora remained snotty and stuffy.

During one fall illness, we noticed she was saying, “What?” after everything we said. It began to drive us crazy.

And so we started the first of several trips to the audiologist for hearing tests, followed by ENT appointments to check Nora’s ears.

Everyone concluded that she was getting fluid trapped in her ears again and again, and that this was causing the temporary hearing loss. The ENT recommended tubes.

“Of course they did,” said Liam. “That’s their job. If they don’t do surgeries, they don’t make money.”

Good point, I thought. It’s not like I was concerned about Nora’s hearing interfering with her speech or development. It was just really annoying to have to repeat myself. Eventually, things cleared up on their own. We ended up not scheduling the surgery.

For better or worse—yes, I’m that kind of mom—I hopped on the Internet to investigate tubes anyway. I admit I did read some stuff that said tubes really helped children. Like kids who hadn’t been speaking suddenly started making language gains. Or stopped having painful recurrent ear infections. But this was not Nora. Her speech was very much developed, and she wasn’t suffering from ear infections, just fluid buildup.

However, I read far more that said tubes didn’t help children. That kids continued to get infections. Or the tubes fell out, and kids needed multiple surgeries. There were even recent scientific studies suggesting that tubes might not be the way to go anymore. 

Fast forward to this past late fall season. We started having the same issues. During one long cold, Nora began having hearing difficulties again. We took her to a new pediatrician in Connecticut and she suggested we try to alleviate allergies by using a nasal spray and hypoallergenic bedding. While I do think this made some improvement, I started to wonder about food intolerances, as this was about the same time I was trying to help self-diagnose some food-related symptoms I was experiencing.

We saw the audiologist again and an ENT twice. At her second follow-up with the  Connecticut ENT, the doctor declared the fluid gone and ears clear in one breath, followed by “I think her adenoids are enlarged, though, and should come out” in the very next.

What?!

This was the first I was hearing about adenoids. The ENT said they were likely enlarged and causing the constant congestion and fluid. They were also likely responsible for her nighttime snoring and mouth breathing, something I mentioned at the last visit.

The doctor then—rather abruptly—handed me a form to sign to give permission for the surgery, and then ushered me and the kids into a room to schedule said surgery.

Whoa! Slow your roll, doc. I’m sorry, but this felt so rushed to me. Surgery is not something I’m opposed to if it means my kid isn’t going to have to suffer unnecessarily. But the rate at which we went from “your ears look great” to “you’re going to need your adenoids removed” was too speedy for my comfort. 

I smiled at the receptionist, took down some possible dates, told her I was going to discuss things with my husband, and then nearly ran from the office. I’ve yet to call back.

I followed up with my pediatrician, who giggled about the incident. Apparently ENTs are known to get down to the business of scheduling these kinds of things. Makes sense, given—like the hubs reminded me—this is how they make the big bucks.

It just didn’t jive with me. I’m the kind of person who is far more interested in discovering the root cause of chronic illness and dealing with that, than just trying to medicate or rely on surgery.

I talked to my naturopath a little at my last visit. And, I might end up taking Nora there to see her yet. But in the meantime, we discussed trying to remove dairy from Nora’s diet. For a lot of folks, both young and old, dairy can cause congestion and allergy-like symptoms, and even—yup—enlarged adenoids.

At first, I felt awful thinking about telling Nora she wouldn’t be able to drink milk, eat cheese or have ice cream. She loves these foods. Turns out a lot of the foods we love and feel addicted to may be the ones causing our bodies the most harm.

I posed it to Nora as a trial. I told her we were going to experiment. If removing dairy helped her to breathe better, kept the fluid at bay, and cured her bad breath (something else I’d read about co-existing with enlarged adenoids), we would likely stick to it. And if I saw no difference, we would go back to normal.

Within two days of removing dairy (we’re almost two weeks in), the bad breath was gone, and hasn’t come back. She hasn’t been congested, and she’s closing her mouth to breathe more at night than I’ve ever noticed before. 

And, the part I thought would be difficult—keeping her from food she loves—hasn’t been too bad. We took the cheese off pizza one night. She has almond milk in her cereal and French toast. And, we found a delicious chocolate coconut ice cream we all love.

I just don’t understand why, with so much scientific and anecdotal evidence from families, that the least invasive remedies—like removing a suspected food or food group—aren’t offered as a first possible solution, or at all. 

Instead, it’s: “Let’s schedule this major surgery. Put your kid under. Remove part or her body which is said to fight infection and which may prevent illness. And after it’s over she’ll bleed down her throat a little and be on a liquid diet for about a week. Oh, and it may work at solving her problems. Or not.”

Like I said, I’m not opposed to the surgery if it’s medically necessary. But I’d rather try my little experiment first, which will have no adverse reactions, except maybe a little disappointment, and potentially huge payoffs.

Money for doctors and procedures and pharmaceutical companies should not be the guiding force behind the decisions we are making about our kids and their health. 

It’s just wrong. ☹️

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