Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
Life as a food allergy parent can be extremely stressful at times, constantly fearing your child will be exposed to a food allergen, while always being on guard should the worst occur.
These days, food allergies are more common than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies affect roughly 4 to 6 percent of the population, and are the most common cause of anaphylaxis in community health settings. For parents whose children’s allergies can cause life-threatening side-effects like anaphylaxis, life can be downright terrifying.
But there may be hope out there for these parents and their kids in the form of an emerging treatment called oral immunotherapy (OIT). OIT is a desensitization program where patients are introduced to microscopic amounts of an allergen that gradually builds up to larger amounts over time, until it becomes fully tolerated by the body.
Of course, for many allergy parents, the idea of introducing even miniscule amounts of an allergen to their highly allergic child sounds frightening. But if you ask one of the more than 500 “graduates” of Dr. Douglas Jones, an allergist from Utah who performs the therapy, they would tell you the experience has been completely worth it.
Dr. Jones tells Babble that he has been seeing patients at the Tanner Clinic in Utah since 2016 and is one of only a handful of doctors offering this breakthrough treatment. The treatment, which takes between six or seven months to complete, is done under the careful supervision of Dr. Jones and his staff.
Working gradually and carefully, patients are introduced to increasing amounts the foods they are allergic to. Foods introduced include common allergies, like milk, egg, wheat, peanut, corn, soy, and tree nuts. Once treatment is complete, patients are able to consume the foods they were previously allergic to in unlimited amounts, without a reaction.
Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds! And with a 90 percent success rate, I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Jones is pretty much a godsend for food allergy families.
Dr. Jones shares that he understands the fears his patients and their parents have as they start the program. But usually, these fears diminish once his patients meet and learn more about other families who have successfully graduated from the program.
“I empathize with them,” says Dr. Jones. “It can naturally be a scary concept to consider. But, by referring to our hundreds of success stories and the life these patients are living now. News stories are helpful as patients love hearing the personal experiences of others and that can give them courage.”
Dr. Jones and his clinic were recently profiled on their local news station Good4Utah.com this week, along with a few of their patients’ inspiring success stories.
“I couldn’t eat peanuts or else there was a high possibility of death, so I had to avoid anything that could touch peanuts,” said Logan Wright Sunderland, a 19-year-old patient of Dr. Jones’s who was severely allergic to peanuts just two years ago.
Now, after completing the program, Logan says he eats peanuts by the handful. “This place has been able to give my life back,” Logan told the news outlet.
Another patient, 7-year-old Eliana Petroff, who is allergic to wheat, milk, and peanuts, has been in treatment with Dr. Jones for the past six months.
“Her dose right now, is an eighth of a piece of wheat bread, which is miraculous because she had anaphylactic reaction with much less,” said her mother, Anarie Petroff.
Dr. Jones tells Babble that it is the intense relief he sees in the families he treats that makes his work the most gratifying.
“The most rewarding part of this work is seeing the burden of food allergy taken off of the shoulders of the patients and their families and seeing them actually live life instead of feeling so isolated and confined,” he says.
Although Dr. Jones says there are similar programs to his scattered across the country, it is still hard to find a doctor who offers the treatment. In fact, the 500th patient to graduate the program traveled to the Tanner Clinic from Australia.
And this is not a rare occurrence. “I have had patients come from all over the country and all over the world to be treated in our clinic,” says Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones and OIT doctors like him are truly giving life back to kids with allergies. We applaud the fantastic work they are doing, and we hope OIT therapy soon becomes available all over.
To find an OIT specialist near you, ask your doctor for a referral.