My Peanut Allergy Child Can Now Eat Peanuts
By Kari Kampakis
Christmas has come early for my baby girl, Camille.
The child who was diagnosed at age 1 with a multitude of allergies can now eat peanuts. Recently, in the office of her allergist, she ate a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
I’m still stunned by the size of this gift.
Never did I think I’d write this article. Never did I imagine my daughter participating in this therapy, which I heard about over 4 years ago while interviewing an allergy researcher at UAB for an article.
This doctor was the first to tell me where food allergy research was headed. He said oral desensitization trials had taken off, and with doctors doing clinical trials to determine the best way to desensitize people, they could be ready for “prime time” in two to three years.
It sounded interesting – yet scary. As an extra-cautious mom, my immediate thought was, “That sounds promising, but I will never give my child a peanut. That’s way too risky for me.”
Yeah, well, be careful what you say. Life has a way of occasionally changing your mind.
So what changed mine? To be honest, Facebook posts. Posts from mothers I know and trust, who over the years have shared the same exciting milestone: after months of doctor visits and oral immunotherapy, their peanut allergy child can now eat peanuts.
Their posts intrigued me, yet I wasn’t convinced. I did, however, warm up to the idea. I started listening, paying attention, and thinking of what this new paradigm might mean for us.
In summer 2016, at our annual back-to-school visit, our allergist, Dr. Joe LaRussa of Birmingham, asked if we might be interested in a trial. I wasn’t then, but by summer 2017, I was. By this point I’d heard a lot of clinical success stories, including families we know well, and one mom in my neighborhood who’s been my role model in this journey.
Naturally, I was still scared. I wanted to proceed with baby steps, and fortunately, that is how Dr. LaRussa does it. (On a side note, he is the best – kind and gentle, yet capable and smart, deeply devoted to his patients and parents.) Since every child is different, every plan is different, and it gave me peace knowing up front we could move forward with him at our own pace.*
In oral desensitization, you gradually build up. The child is given his or her allergen on an incremental basis to see what can b e tolerated. For Camille, it looked like this:
◦ A blood test to confirm her allergy level, which can increase with age without treatment
◦ 4 months of weekly doctor visits, where Camille ate increasing amounts of peanut protein and was monitored for an hour.
◦ Therapy began with Camille eating applesauce with trace amounts of peanut protein. The food was prepared by Dr. LaRussa and given by him too. At each visit, he gradually increased the protein.
◦ We left each weekly visit with 6 days worth of applesauce & peanut protein at her new level. She ate one a night with dinner.
◦ Once Camille worked up to 1 peanut, she then slowly, over months, advanced to a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
◦ To maintain tolerance, Camille must eat some peanuts daily for the rest of her life. (luckily peanut M&Ms count) Missing a few days could set her back and reintroduce the allergy, so commitment is crucial.
◦ The next step, if we choose, is to tackle another allergy and repeat the process.
Some parents who read this will think that parents like me are nuts. I’ve had a parent all but say that, and it’s because she doesn’t understand. She hasn’t lived with the fear of having a food allergy child.
The fact is, there are endless opportunities for accidental exposure, especially with peanuts. Every parent I know who opts for oral desensitization does it not so their child can know the joy of peanut butter – but to protect them from an accidental exposure. To know that if an accident happened, it wouldn’t be lethal.
There are more parents wanting this therapy than there are doctors offering it. Alabama has two doctors, and many states have none. Because of this, Dr. LaRussa has families who travel from all over – Huntsville, Mississippi, even Washington, DC – for weekly visits. To me this shows what a priority this therapy is to parents. As demand increases, I hope the research and training of allergists who safely practice OIT also increase.* I hope 5 to 10 years from now, the landscape of food allergies will be drastically better thanks to medical advancements.
It saddens me that allergies on the rise. [According to an article I read] childhood peanut allergies have increased 21% since 2010, and tree nut allergies 18%. The good news is, steps are being taken to potentially prevent peanut allergies by introducing infants to peanut products early after assessing the risk. Babies diagnosed are now immediately pointed to therapy, because the earlier it starts, the better.
Doctors are working toward the goal of eradicating peanut allergies by age 2. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I’d love to see this goal accomplished, and my purpose in sharing our story is not to sell OIT, but to testify how it worked for us, to put a face with the research for the moms who need real-life examples.
I’m encouraged to think that for this next generation, childhood food allergies may look different. Instead of calling their friends in tears the day their child is diagnosed, moms may instead be planning their next step with the allergist. They may be given options beyond an Epi-pen you can never leave home without.
Whatever the future holds, I have hope for the allergy child. I’m also grateful for the pioneers who are slowly blazing a path – the researchers, doctors, patients, and parents – that can safely propel change in a promising new direction and help create a world where food allergies may, ultimately, become a thing of the past.
Kari Kampakis is a blogger, author, speaker, and newspaper columnist from Birmingham, Alabama. Her two books for teen and tween girls, "10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know" and "Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For" have been used widely across the country by teen youth groups and small groups to empower girls through faith. Kari's work has been featured in The Huffington Post, The TODAY Show, EWTN, Proverbs 31, Yahoo! News, The Eric Metaxas Show, Ann Voskamp's blog, and other national outlets. She and her husband, Harry, have four daughters and a dog named Lola. Learn more by visiting www.karikampakis.com or finding Kari on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.