Why going ‘dairy free’ may bring relief to kids who stop breathing in the night

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I am currently spending the Easter break staying with family in Malta. The night before last my girlfriend and I spent the evening with a relative and his wife at their home. His 6-year-old daughter fell asleep on the couch during the evening and began to snore quite loudly. Every few breaths she seemed to stop breathing altogether. Only after a few seconds her breathing would resume again. In medicine, this phenomenon of periodic breaks in breathing during sleep is known as ‘sleep apnoea’.

My relative told me the he and his wife had sought the opinion of an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. He has diagnosed ‘enlarged tonsils’, and told them that he did not advise surgery for this. He recommended that they do nothing about this issue, and just wait for her to grow out of it.

This piece of advice reminded me of a study published about a year ago that I covered in a blog post in February of last year. This research found that removing the tonsils and adenoids (made of similar tissue as the tonsils and found near the back of the nose) improved sleep apnoea in only about a quarter of the children who underwent this procedure.

In that blog post I put forward the theory that why removal of tonsils and adenoids is so ineffective is because congestion in the ear, nose ad throat regions (including in the tonsils and adenoids) can be due to food sensitivity. And if any food sensitivity issues are not resolved, congestion and disordered breathing can still persist way after the tonsils and adenoids have been removed.

Any food, in theory, can cause congestion in the ear, nose and throat, but my experience in practice is that the front-runner food group here is dairy products. I very commonly find that elimination of dairy products leads to a resolution of congestion, including tonsil enlargement.

So, my suggestion to my relative and his wife was that if they were keen to do something more proactive than waiting for their daughter to ‘grow out of’ her problem (assuming she will grow out of it), they might consider a three-week trial of a dairy-free diet.

They seemed keen to give it a go. Though one issue here is that according to her parents, this girl likes to drink a lot of milk. Obviously, the more a child likes a food, the more difficult it is, generally speaking, to remove it from the diet. However, the very fact that this girl likes milk such a lot is suspicious for dairy sensitivity. I don’t know the reason for this (so don’t ask) but in practice individuals with food sensitivities often become very wedded to the specific foods they have a sensitivity to.

In children, this can exhibit itself for a love of milk, milk-based drinks (e.g. milkshakes) and/or yoghurt. But don’t think that this phenomenon occurs only in children: it can be seen in adults too. Here, it often exhibits itself as a bit of a cappuccino or latte habit. Sometimes, it manifests as a real yen for cheese (cheese being a preferred dessert is a bit of a telltale sign). So, if this sounds like you and you have problems with nasal and/or sinus congestion, my advice is to consider having a trial without dairy products too.

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