Food allergy parents like me live with the hope that one day there will be a cure, something that will protect our children and prevent them from ever having to experience an anaphylactic allergic reaction, or worse. Every time I hear the news of another child drying from anaphylactic shock that fear overwhelms me yet again.
If you or your child do not have food allergies, it is likely that you know someone who does have them. In fact, there are approximately 15 million Americans living with food allergies, where reactions can be as basic as a few hives or as advanced as potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Food allergies affect 1 in every 13 children in the United States and takes a stressful toll on families.
My son lives with multiple food allergies, a few of which could be life threatening. I know what it is like to fear a ringing phone, that split second of panic that it might be someone on the other side calling to say that my son is in anaphylactic shock. It is not an unfounded fear, either. Every three minutes in this country a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. We allergy parents wait patiently with bated breath in the hope that someday we will not have to live in fear of that phone call.
So is there are finally a cure for food allergies on the horizon?
Scientists out of the University of Notre Dame are making progress toward the development of the first of its kind molecule that can stop an allergic reaction from taking place.
Here’s how it works so far. Mast cells are a type of white blood cell whose job it is to protect the body from harmful pathogens. During allergic reactions the mast cells respond to what is typically a harmless substance, such as peanut or shellfish. These researchers developed a molecule that, when added to the bloodstream, can attach to the mast cells and stop the mast cells from reacting to the allergen. This molecule, in theory, gets in front of the allergen and blocks it from reaching the mast cells.
What is exciting about this new development is not only that there is hope for a cure, but in the method used to stop the reaction. While epinephrine is used to aid the body’s response during a reaction, this research shows the potential ability to stop a reaction from taking place. Though we have certainly been lucky so far, I would much rather give my child medicine to stop a reaction altogether because there have been known cases of death even when epinephrine is administered.
Next up for researchers is to perfect the molecule and the method by which it can prevent a reaction from occurring, and that can take a while. Let us hope they can do it quickly.
Food allergy parents, get ready. We may not have to live in fear of anaphylaxis much longer. Our day has not come yet, but it certainly could be on the horizon.
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