Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) is helping children with food allergies to become desensitized to the foods that have caused them problems and negative reactions.
“We’d been considering it for a while,” said Christine Cassen Calhoun, a WFAA-TV producer and mom of two young girls who are currently undergoing the treatment. They started four months ago, and so far so good.
After two scary experiences with daughters Chloe and Emma, who are allergic to peanuts, Christine and her husband decided to try OIT.
“We were both scared and nervous to do it,” she said from the waiting room at Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas, where the girls go almost each week for their up-dosing treatment. Doctors give the girls small amounts of peanuts to help desensitize them.
“You start off with a mixture of Kool-Aid and peanut protein... and you do it out of a syringe, kind of like you give your kid medicine,” said Cassen. “Neither one of them has had a reaction at all.”
Each week, under watchful eye, doctors increase the girls’ dose of peanut products. In all, the treatment will take a great deal of patience. They’ll be coming back for months.
A recent study has shown that food Oral Immunotherapy in peanut-allergic patients as young as nine months old can effectively desensitize infants and toddlers.
“Our success rate overall is 82 percent,” said Dr. Robert Sugarman, Allergist-Immunologist with Medical City Children’s.
Already, Christine’s girls are eating actual peanuts as their dose. One of the girls is up to half a peanut per day, each night with dinner.
“We actually have a little scale that we weigh the peanuts on,” said Cassen.
Doctors note that there should be no physical activity or running around for two hours after the children consume the peanuts. If their bodies heat up, they could have a negative reaction.
“Eventually, to pass the challenge at the end [of treatment], they'll have to eat 24 peanuts in one sitting,” explained Christine.
Even after completing the treatment, Chloe and Emma will have to eat eight peanuts a day, every day, for the rest of their lives in order to maintain immunity.
“I already feel less worried about my kids, even though we haven't crossed the finish line,” said Cassen. “We're not even half way there yet, but it just feels good to be doing something about it."
Doctors say those who benefit most from OIT are young children with a history of potentially life-threatening allergic reactions to common foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Some children may have allergic reactions during treatment, which is why they must be supervised by doctors. Those children who do experience negative reactions may continue with OIT; doctors will adjust their doses week-to-week as they see fit.
This is the second installment of a three-part series. We’ll check back in with Christine and the girls once their treatment is finished a few months from now.