Sam Harris (11) didn’t like missing out on special treats at home or being careful around the lunch table at school because of his peanut allergy. Food avoidance was the only way Sam’s parents thought he could manage his allergy until they learned about oral immunotherapy (OIT) at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“We wanted to give him a chance to lead a more normal dietary life where he could attend gatherings with family or friends and not be ultra vigilant about what he is eating,” said Dolly Harris, Sam’s mom. “Worrying about an allergic reaction is always in the back of your mind and we knew, as Sam got older, it would be harder for us to monitor foods so Dr. Schroer suggested OIT.”
OIT treats food allergies by eating the food allergen, in this case peanuts, in a very small amount and progressively increases the dose in an effort to retrain the immune system. The treatment is meant to raise the amount of a food protein that results in an allergic reaction and, in doing so, decrease the risk for severe allergic reactions.
The treatment can be effective in kids 17 years and younger with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, milk and eggs. It can, however, lead to potential side effects such as acute allergic reaction and chronic stomachache that may cause decreased appetite, nausea or vomiting.
“Sam talked to other kids about OIT to help him decide if he wanted to try it. We, especially Sam, were a little wary about starting treatment because of the side effects,” said Dolly. “Dr. Schroer and his staff were so understanding and very willing to work with Sam at the pace he needed. They’ve really made us feel informed and safe at every step.”
Successful immunotherapy can result in desensitization of food allergens so patients can eat a significant amount of food without a reaction, but OIT isn’t a cure.
“OIT requires time and patience,” said Brian Schroer, MD, director of allergy and immunology at Akron Children’s. “At the start, we see patients in the office every two weeks. They have to follow strict daily dosing guidelines at home and adhere to rules about when a dose can be given as the patient progresses, with continual dosing throughout life. Sam and his family have been doing a great job…we’re all proud of how well he’s doing.”
A year-and-a-half in, Sam is now on the maintenance phase of treatment and really enjoying the benefits that come with it – especially the candy options!
To learn more about OIT or how to manage your child’s food allergies, contact the Center for Allergy and Immunology at Akron Children’s at 330-543-0140.