[571] Why asthmatics need to know about salicylates: An interview with Matt’s mother (August 2007)

How long have you been failsafe?

My 8 year old son Matt is a severe asthmatic who has been on the diet for almost a year.  We of course have our good days and bad days in making him stick to it, but regardless of that he has done so well and has not had to go to hospital since he has been on the diet, and for a child who has been hospitalized multiple times every year since he was 6 months old this is quite an achievement.

What made you decide to try diet?

I love my children and as a mother I could not continue to blindly pump drugs into Matt every morning, night and during the day, it made me feel sick and I couldn't see that it was actually making an awful lot of difference to his asthma, in fact it seemed to be getting worse. Just before we started the elimination diet Ventolin seemed to have no effect on Matt at all, only prednisolone seemed to alleviate an attack, which as you can imagine frightened the hell out of me. The doctors all said the same things, either give it to him or he could die.

How quickly did the diet kick in?

Amazingly, within a few days. We could not believe how quickly. I remember Matt had been 'trying' to play basketball, we would give him two puffs of ventolin before the game as the doctor had instructed and then the poor thing would try in vain to run up and down the court, but he really didn't want to play and used to ask to be 'subbed' off.The first week of the diet he had a game on the Thursday, so rather than pre-puff, I asked if he needed a puff - he said no - and went out on the court.I sat there nervously with his puffer in my hand at the ready, and off he went - running up and down the court, he was only subbed off when the coach did the normal process of taking equal turns between the players. He came off at the end with a bright red face, sweaty head and a big smile - and a noticeably absent wheeze. I could not believe it - that was when I knew this was going to work.

Which food chemicals affect Matt's asthma (e.g. sulphites, salicylates, benzoates, colours?)

Artificial red colours seem to have the most dramatic effect. Salicylates definitely, although salicylates by themselves e.g. apples, tend to creep up on him, taking a few days and even then the reaction seems milder than artificial colours. Sulphites definitely. Amines do not seem to present the same level of problem, but I am extremely cautious with them also.Have you done challenges or did you work it out from mistakes?

I am very loathe to do challenges, we tend to learn from his or my mistakes. The results are so obvious, usually that night he and I are up all night with his terrible croupy cough, he becomes unreasonable, eczema flairs up, his feet crack and bleed.There is no mistaking it when it happens, and I can't bring myself to deliberately create the situation.The only real trial I have done is with fruit because it is what he misses the most, golden delicious apples for three days, third day severe asthma attack, cracked feet - lasted 3 days.Bananas  no apparent problem.Half a mango - within hours agitated, croupy cough leading to an attack that night, but gone within a couple of days. 

What happens when he breaks his diet?

It depends on what he eats. Sometimes it kind of creeps up on me that he seems to be a bit wheezy, but nothing dramatic happens, which concerns me because I think maybe the 'build up factor' is occurring, so I put him back on the elimination diet and start again (we are doing this at the moment, because I have found out that he has been 'sharing' lunch at school and also put in a tuck order without me knowing!) I have reviewed his lunch box and was able to buy your cookbook, so now he is getting enough interesting things and variety so he feels that he is not missing out!

Sometimes it is so painfully obvious that he has eaten something, he just comes home and starts coughing. This happened before Christmas with those rotten candy canes that all the kids give at school - Christmas is a nightmare for me and Matt, he has to say no to things he loves and I have to be the 'lolly detective' to make sure he survives! He came home one day from school and was clearly having an attack, in addition to all of the horrible behavioural issues that accompany such food, I just said point blank - what on earth have you had at school? - and of course it had been a candy cane. School presents the biggest challenge on this diet.

What kinds of foods is he most likely to eat when he breaks his diet?

It depends, lollies, chocolates - things he sees all of the other kids having that he can't. When he did his 'secret' tuck order it was a ham and cheese sandwich and a strawberry milk. Funnily enough most people would think this was quite a 'healthy' lunch!! That night it meant a serious asthma attack for him, and all types of horrible behavior!

Has he been able to reduce medication?

He hasn’t needed steroids since he started the diet 12 months ago and over summer he went for three months without any Ventolin. He really only has it now if he is having an attack usually because we have made a mistake or he has had something at school that he shouldn't have.  After the ham sandwich and strawberry milk incident he had one dose of two puffs per night for a week, prior to that it had probably been about two months since he had a puff.

How about exercise?

Matt is very active, he plays basketball and football and swims four nights a week in a squad team.

Has Matt's doctor been supportive of diet?

No, I gave up discussing much of anything with the gp/specialist some time ago.Their answer has always been puff at all costs, nothing else will work, his asthma is totally unrelated to diet.

Do you have an asthma plan drawn up with your doctor for Matt?

We do have for school, but it is pretty standard stuff and says he should be puffed twice before any physical activity. He no longer needs and because of his age now the school more or less leave it up to him unless there was an emergency.

Do you measure peak flow readings? if so, do you have any examples of  what certain foods do to Matt' readings?

No, we have never measured peak flow - the doctor has never suggested it.

Did you join the failsafeasthma group and if so has it been helpful?

I just joined - so will let you know.

Did you see a dietitian about the diet?

I met with the dietician you recommended - she was fantastic, gave me some really good tips and excellent guidance.  Other than a couple of lunch box modifications she thought we were very much on the right track.

Any other comments?


I would love to see an action group in schools - school lunch is the hardest part of this diet. I would love to be able to refer the school to some committee etc that are educating the educators.

Also, I need to mention something else in relation to Matt's school work. Mid last year Matt's teacher told us that she thought he would have to repeat the year, due to his inability to focus and complete work, also his reading and writing were below standard for his age. She couldn't understand what the problem was, as he is obviously an intelligent boy, however nothing she did was working. We started the diet in the school holidays a few weeks later. We had a parent teacher interview at the end of the following term.The teacher told us that she couldn't believe the difference in Matt, and wanted to know what we had done as the change was quite profound. He was now able to focus and when he couldn't he actually removed himself and asked her if he could go to a quiet place to concentrate!! His reading, writing, completion of tasks, virtually everything had improved out of sight. So much so that she said there was absolutely no need to
hold him back a year.

I can tell if Matt or I have made a mistake - as much by his behaviour as his coughing.

Once again THANK YOU so much for continuing this wonderful work - it has changed our lives.