Tuesday, June 18 2013, 08:59 AM MDT
New Strategy for Treating Food Allergies
(CBS) For 13 year old Nicole Orsak, the key to surviving a severe peanut allergy was avoiding even the dust from the nuts.
Still, she had a close call a few years ago. "This was really bad. I couldn't breathe."
She ignored adults' advice to wait for paramedics and gave herself a life-saving injection from her epinephrine pen.
Nicole is one of nearly 6 million children in the U.S. with food allergies. The rate of food allergies doubles every year. But some radical new research brings new hope.
Dr. Kari Nadeau of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, has been conducting clinical trials on children's food allergies the last two years. Nicole was among 85 participants. The idea - desensitize patients to their food allergies by introducing the food into their diet.
“Very slowly over time, you develop tolerance or desensitization to that product, to that food, that very same food that you're allergic to."
These peanut doses start with a few specks and slowly increase to a normal serving of 16 peanuts - at the end of two years. Nadeau says the therapy's worked for kids with more than one food allergy.
Nicole still carries her epi pen for safety, but she can now eat a tablespoon of peanut butter, and must eat some peanuts every day to maintain her tolerance.
Her mother says she's found freedom from the fear that one wrong bite could kill her. "I can't tell you how joyous the experience is for me and her to come back and be able to say 'I can do it.' I can fly on an airplane, go somewhere else and be independent without worry."
“Even though there's a long journey to get through the trial, it's definitely worth it." Nadeau says the therapy is not a cure, and it's too dangerous for parents to try at home.