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MAY 2006
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Allergies @ National Geographic Magazine
By Judith Newman
Photographs by David McLain

Millions suffer from them, and thousands die each year. The rising incidence of allergies is nothing to sneeze at.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Slim and serious, he mounts his bike. His long fingers grasp the handlebars firmly, and he checks his balance. Today he has a cold, and the circles under his eyes are darker than usual. When he explains his situation, he speaks with deliberation. "I don't eat much, unless Mom can check the ingredients. Then I can eat. But not 'til then."

Why so cautious? Maybe it's the result of spending so much of his childhood trying to make himself understood to doctors while gasping for air. Knowing that the simplest things can kill you . . . well, it does make a guy careful.

Cameron Liflander has allergies. This makes him no different from more than 50 million other Americans today. But his problem is not merely the watery eyes or scratchy throat we associate with that word. Cameron's seven-year-old body is waging a fierce war with his environment. And his mother fears that one day the environment could win.

"A pediatrician told me I was being silly," says Pamela Liflander, who repeatedly asked about her infant's oozing, blistering rashes, his constant spitting up. "The doctor said no child under three has real allergies, and the rashes and vomiting would go away. But I'd had a child before Cameron. I knew what a healthy baby looked like. This was not a healthy baby."

Cameron continued to look sickly, but his growth rate was on the charts. He drank breast milk for almost a year, and Pamela introduced other foods gradually. One day she gave him a bite of tuna. Cameron turned red, swelled like a sea sponge, and choked. Benadryl took care if it, but with the next anaphylactic reaction they ended up in the emergency room near their Riverside, Connecticut, home. It would be the first of many visits.

Just how many things could one child be allergic to? Over the next few years, the Liflanders would find out.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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