This New Therapy Might Be Able To Cure Kids' Food Allergies

by Christina Marfice
Originally Published: 
Image via Sarah Wynia Smith / Facebook

Safety from food allergies could change the lives of millions of kids

In the U.S., allergies are on the rise. That’s a scary fact, considering in 2014, 4 million American children already suffered from food allergies.

Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is a new, experimental treatment for food allergies that, when performed early in a child’s life, shows promise of helping kids build up enough of a tolerance to their allergens to safely eat cross contaminated food, erasing the constant worry that kids and their families feel when living with food allergies. In a viral post, one mom described her child’s experience with OIT at a clinic in Illinois that specializes in the procedure, writing, “Today my peanut-allergic son ate 24 peanuts. You read that right. He scarfed down two handfuls of his allergen. And he liked it!”

Sarah Wynia Smith, a Milwaukee mom of two, detailed how she drove her son, Jackson, to Kenilworth Allergy Asthma clinic 90 miles away weekly for eight months, where he has been gradually exposed to peanut proteins. OIT starts small — on the first day of treatment, he spent six hours slowly drinking juice that contained five micrograms of diluted peanut protein. Over time, the amounts he was exposed to were increased. Three months into therapy, he ate one whole peanut. Another three months later, he could eat 12 at a time.

“This is really exciting, but it may be early for the term “cure,” Dr. Detjen, the doctor who treated Smith’s son, tells Scary Mommy. “We are currently desensitizing (still allergic but eating daily) and hoping that many of them will get to tolerance, which means no longer allergic, time will tell. The food OIT allergists around the country are grateful to these brave moms, kids and families who are undergoing this treatment and sharing their stories.”

Reactions to food allergies can be serious, warns the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, including life-threatening anaphylaxis, for which food is one of the most common triggers. And of all foods, peanuts are most likely to cause life-threatening allergic reactions in kids.

Having a child with a peanut allergy means constant stress and worry for the family. Cross-contamination is common, meaning many foods in restaurants and grocery stores could trigger allergies even if peanuts aren’t listed in their ingredients. But what if there were a way to protect kids from having reactions to their allergens?

Smith’s son is now considered “desensitized” to peanuts, and if he continues to eat them daily, he will retain his tolerance to peanuts. Even though he still carries the antibodies that signal a peanut allergy, he is unlikely to have an allergic reaction at his tolerance level. That is priceless to Jackson and his family.

“I’ve seen Jackson have an anaphylactic reaction. I’ve had to administer his Epi-Pen. Even more difficult over all these years of managing a life-threatening food allergy has been the extreme anxiety that I’ve shouldered,” Smith wrote. “It’s not a universal experience among parents of food allergy kids, but for me personally, I felt trapped and terrified almost constantly. He too was starting to get anxious about food that wasn’t safe. Any food with a trace of peanut in it could have literally killed him. This led to our family avoiding not only restaurants that served anything with peanuts (I know how “careful” food service is about cross-contamination), but things like baseball games, birthday parties, wedding cakes, potlucks. It was all just too anxiety-provoking for the benefits to outweigh the negatives to attending such things. It was very socially isolating in a way that I never truly appreciated until managing a food allergy.”

OIT is a new treatment, but shows great promise. Other clinics have reported success in creating tolerance in kids allergic to peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, shrimp and other common allergens. A recent study finds “desensitized state, defined as the ingestion of a substantial amount of food in the home diet that protects from severe reactions to accidental exposures, can be achieved by approximately 50–75% of the children treated with OIT.”

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