Sophia Ficke, 3, suffers from a milk protein allergy. She and her mom, Lisa, have a sign at the front door. Sophia must avoid many foods, as well as contact with people who have such food on their hands. Tim Shortt/FLORIDA TODAY
(FLORIDA TODAY) -- The sign by the front door - a cow slashed by a diagonal line - warns visitors that milk, and all milk-related products, are strictly forbidden at the Viera home of Lisa and Sean Ficke.
Three-year-old Sophia Ficke is so allergic to dairy products that even contact with someone who has eaten or handled anything as benign as a Goldfish cracker can send her into a tailspin of hives. Her milk allergy has reshaped family life in the Ficke household.
"Every day is a struggle," Lisa Ficke said.
The kind gesture of a free cookie from the baker at the neighborhood supermarket could become a trip to the emergency room for Sophia, as would touching a library book that might have been handled by a child who had been drinking chocolate milk.
"We have to try to keep her socialized while at the same time safe, because she is always moments away from a trip to the hospital," Ficke said.
Milk allergies affect about 300,000 children younger than 3 in the United States, but fortunately, 80 percent of them will outgrow it by age 16. Specialists have told the Fickes that Sophia, in the top 2 percent in the country for highest allergy to milk, probably will never outgrow the problem.
"We have pleaded for answers from specialists, but the consensus is that they don't know," Ficke said.
The Fickes are not alone. Ficke's impromptu survey of Viera parents has revealed at least 15 families trying to cope with their children's severe allergies to milk, peanuts and shellfish. Raising a child with food allergies can be frustrating, stressful and increasingly common, as more children are affected. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with food allergies spiked 18 percent between 1997 and 2007. Experts are at a loss as to the cause.
"There are a number of theories about this increase," said Dr. Mark Minor, an allergy specialist with Medical Associates of Brevard in Melbourne and a member of the Florida Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Society.
"It has been attributed to environmental factors and to a vitamin D deficiency. Kids don't go out as much as before, so they may be deficient in vitamin D."
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