During our first-ever allergy test, it quickly became clear we would be an epi-carrying family. The allergist did a skin prick test—which was awful for me even though Zachary was the bravest three year old I’ve ever known—26 pokes later, he quietly whispered to me after the nurse left the room, “it hurts mom,” then he laid his head in my chest and allowed tears to silently slip down his face. And my heart ripped into shreds.
Five minutes later, while I was still raw and trying to wipe away my own tears, the nurse checked in on us, took one look at his back and said, “Oh his peanut is already huge, you’ll definitely have to carry an EpiPen®. I’ll be right back.”
At that moment, it was like a black hole began swallowing me alive. Already on the verge of tears, it was all I could do to not cry outright as the nurse walked me through how to administer this lifesaving medication in the form of a shot to his leg.
And that was it. Five and a half years ago. It feels like yesterday.
Would I ever feel hopeful about this life-threatening diagnosis?
It took a couple of years of learning, researching, and reading but the answer is yes. Friends, there is hope! Here’s what I now know:
There is a lot of research being done this very minute. As you read this, there are multiple smart—really smart—people researching and studying the possible causes of food allergies and how to treat them, at the very least to minimize the concern of exposure through cross contamination. Not only that, but our world received an immense push toward treatment (dare we say cure?!) in the form of an infusion of cash for research from tech billionaire Sean Parker recently.
As far as food allergy treatments go, there are some available now, and some in the works. These are the ones I’m keeping my eyes on.
Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) is a treatment for IgE mediated allergies and aims to desensitize an individual to the allergen through small exposures. Because of risks involved, this is a treatment that should only be considered with your board certified allergist, and should not be tried at home without supervision. The aim of OIT is to improve quality of life through lowering the possibility of reactions to accidental exposures. It is not considered a cure, but does eventually allow individuals to eat something without concern of cross contamination.
In Trial: OIT + Xolair Injections This particular trial is both interesting and exciting because the asthma drug Xolair seems to help prime the body in a particular way to receive the allergens without attacking, or causing an allergic reaction. Not only that, but the first phase of this study showed that an individual undergoing OIT and receiving Xolair injections can be desensitized to multiple allergens at once. And, the study reported that the desensitization could occur in as little as 18 weeks. Wrap your head around that—if this treatment pans out, within a year from starting treatment, our cherubs could be desensitized to the very thing that could currently land them in the hospital. I’m keeping my eyes on this one.
In Trial: EPIT (Viaskin) This product is kind of near and dear to my heart because we were *thisclose* to Zachary joining Phase 2 of the trial of the “Peanut Patch” here in Chicago. He had been pre-screened and cleared to come in for his first appointment. Exactly one week before we were to drive down to Children’s Hospital, I received a call saying his age group had just filled. While disappointed, we’re thrilled and so thankful for those who are sacrificing time and showing courage by being a part of this groundbreaking treatment. Viaskin is a different type of desensitization option, desensitizing through a patch of the allergen on the skin. The risk of treatment seems lower than that of OIT, so may be more appealing to some families. You can see a conversation between DBV Technologies’ Dr. Pierre-Henri Benhamou and the Wall Street Journal’s Simon Constable about the latest findings on the Patch here.
In Trial: FAHF-2 This study looks to merge Chinese medicine into the Western world by determining the effectiveness of Chinese herbs on food allergies. Dr. Li, whose specialty is pediatric allergy and immunology, is spearheading the research and also treats patients in Traditional Chinese Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York. I am in the midst of reading the book Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for the Cure by Henry Ehrlich, which follows Dr. Li and her work. It’s not a beach read, to be sure, but you will come away from the book far more informed about the body and how the work Dr. Li is doing could be life-changing for so many of us.
I’m sure there are more options I have not covered here. These are the treatments I’ve got my eyes on. And I share them to let you know that, in case you haven’t heard, there’s hope for a safer future ahead. And these smart people are working full steam ahead, on behalf of all of our loved ones.