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

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.

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

  1. Tracy Bradley 26 March 2008 at 1:55 am #

    This is my experience as well with food sensitivities and subsequent cravings for the offending substances. I’ve wondered if other addictions are similar – if alcoholics, for example, are “sensitive” to alcohol and as a result crave it, while people without sensitivity to it can have some now and then and don’t ever experience addiction or cravings.

  2. Regina 26 March 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    Very interesting…My allergist had noticed that I had an enlarged tonsil/adenoid (I’m 46). After watching it for a few months, she sent me to an ENT. That doctor also chose to watch it for 6 months. In the meantime, I discovered I had both gluten intolerance and casein intolerance. I gave up all dairy and the next time I saw my allergist she didn’t even notice the tonsil/adenoid because it had reverted to looking normal.

    Thank goodness I avoided an unnecessary surgery!

    Thank you so much for your blog.

  3. LJ 26 March 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    I concur, Dr Briffa. I went dairy-free this past January and February. My acne disappeared, as did my asthma. Now that I’ve added dairy back in, I’m noticeably congested – I feel like I’m fighting a cold or allergies – and my face resembles the surface of Mars. I’ll be glad to have used up the last of the dairy again.

  4. MG 28 March 2008 at 6:40 pm #

    I took my 11 year old son off dairy products about a year ago after reading something you had written. He had previously suffered tonsilitis at least once every six weeks for almost his entire life. He didn’t have any tonsilitis on the dairy free diet, until we gave him some cheese. Within two days he had enlarged and sore tonsils. It is a bit of a pain to keep him off dairy but not impossible as there are so many alternatives. The only problem is that I also feel he shouldn’t have too much soya, which many of the alternatives are made from.

  5. silver 28 July 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    MG and Regina, it’s the same for me. I’m 46 now, but when I was a kid, those Lilly penicillin tablets were like my 5th food group… I constantly had tonsillitis. I outgrew it about age 13–which coincidentally, is when I stopped drinking milk every day.

  6. Lee 8 January 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I posting this because I hope other mothers benefit. I am the mother of an 18 month old. She’s had issues with her breathing lately including daytime mouth breathing, snoring, stops breathing, and drooling. Her pediatrician recommended visiting an ENT doc. He said he suspected the issue might be with her adenoids as her tonsils seemed to be fine. He recommended that we have an x-ray to confirm and then after DO SURGERY in order to remove the adenoids; specially since she seems to have had an issue of snoring and snorting since birth. Prior to the visit I stopped drinking cows milk and stopped giving it to her (still nursing) and noticed a HUGE change and reversal of her all symptoms and the Rx for the x-ray is still in the diaper bag or somewhere. I don’t think I ‘ll be needing it.

  7. Hugo Miranda 31 March 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    I´m Portuguese. Since, maybe 10 years i was constantly developing adenoiditis, like every two monthes i got one infection. My Adenoiditis were removed when i was 5 years old, but they grown up again. About 5 years ago i was also constantly having morning diharreia and having pain in the right lower side of my abdominal area. A gastrointerologist diagnostic me severe lactose intolerance and irritable colon syndrome. For about 4 monthes i stopped milk related products, and started to take milk with no lactose. I don´t no if it was coincidence or not, but since the time i´ve stopped taking milk related products i didn´t have any adenoiditis infection.
    Could this be the reason?

    Thank you


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