The Big Idea: Fighting food allergies

From the outside it is unnoticeable but for those who suffer day in and day out from food allergies it can be debilitating.

Suzie Fromer's two boys, Danny and Peter, are part of a rapidly growing group of kids that suffer from life-threatening food allergies. Every day she has to be in charge of everything they eat to keep them safe.

However all that might be changing thanks to a new practice called oral immunotherapy, or OIT. The approach involves giving patients small doses of their food allergen. The goal is to trick the body into not recognizing the substance in an allergic way.

Dr. Joel Selter of Allergy and Asthma Rockland says OIT helps patients outgrow or learn to tolerate the food they are allergic to. One of around 70 doctors in the United States who practice OIT, Dr. Selter treats patients who suffer from peanut, egg, soy, tree nut, wheat, and milk allergies. His motivation is to help make it safer for his patients to go to a restaurant or go to a party.

The procedure is relatively straight forward. Patients are required to make one-hour weekly visits where they are given miniscule doses of the allergen and then diligently monitored.

Danny, 10, suffers from multiple food allergies. He has been working with Dr. Selter to treat his peanut allergy. Once in fear of going into anaphylaxis shock from even just trace amounts of the allergen, Danny is working his way up the peanut chain.

The treatment plan takes between 4 to 12 months. But the maintenance is not just in the doctor's office. Once done with the weekly visit, patients are sent home with a week's worth of what the practice calls "doses." Each patient is required to take one or two doses of their allergen every 24 hours, each time monitoring their response.

If all goes well, at their next visit the doses go up. These are small steps towards big victories. 

But not everyone is on board with the procedure. Some critics have argued the treatment is too risky to try. FDA studies on the practice won't be done until 2018. But for Dr. Selter, who has nearly a 100-percent success rate with his patients, he argues it is something we've actually been doing for quite some time. He draws a parallel between OIT and allergy immunotherapy, i.e., shots. For example, allergy immunotherapy on someone allergic to bee stings involves cautiously administering injections.

The fear of a life or death moment possibly just a bite away may be soon long gone.


Finding an OIT doctor

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)