Jensen Israel has had a peanut allergy since he was a baby. Any exposure sends him into anaphylaxis, a severe and sometimes life-threatening allergic reaction. But now he’s getting what’s called oral immunotherapy or O.I.T. The gradual introduction of tiny amounts of peanut flour into his diet.
“I was just a little scared but then I knew about that when I’m done with the O.I.T. I could go to like birthday parties, eat their cake, I could go to new restaurants.”
His mother Melissa sought out the treatment after years of trying to stop him from coming into contact with peanuts.
“That big bad boogeyman your allergy can be lurking around any corner it can be on any surface. Everything he touches is potentially life-threatening, so it’s it’s very frightening.”
Dr. Thomas Chacko is one of a growing number of immunologists now using the technique. Currently, there are no approved manufacturers of the oral therapy so he gets a local pharmacist to carefully measure out exact doses of inexpensive peanut flour, and then gives them to his patients while monitoring their response.
“We are slowly introducing it into the body and allowing the body to become tolerant. There’s always a chance of reaction so it’s not it’s not without any risk, but with the proper doctor, with the proper monitoring, it can be done safely.”
This small clinic run by just one doctor has effectively treated 35 patients with peanut allergies in the last year. Many of them now eat peanuts freely without any fear of a reaction. It’s a technique that’s caught on across the U.S. with over 60 specialists now offering this treatment for those with peanut allergies.
Until recently women were told not to eat peanuts during pregnancy and avoid exposing their babies to peanut protein to prevent them from developing an allergy. But recent studies have reversed that advice finding that early exposure cuts the chance of developing peanut allergies by up to 80%.
“We’ve learned that food allergies can be impacted by early diet and with peanuts specifically we know now that early introduction actually helps reduce peanut allergies which is contrary to what we thought in the past.”
For Jenson, conquering his peanut allergy is an exciting prospect. And in the coming years as oral immunotherapy is adopted more widely, it looks set to change the lives of millions allowing them to eat again without fear.