In the future I will be discussing an allergy treatment plan we decided to pursue for Kenna. It is called Oral Immunitherapy and is a form of desensitization. I wanted to explain what desensitization is and how it works. You have probably heard about this form of allergy treatment as “allergy shots”, used for environmental allergens. It involves exposing a person to small amounts of their allergen and then increasing it, little by little, in attempt to change the immune systems response to that allergen.
Many studies have found allergy shots to be effective for treating rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma. When your immune system is exposed to the same allergen, at an extremely small level, the allergen does not cause a reaction. Then, slowly and consistently, the allergen amount is increased. The body won’t react and the immune and digestive systems adapt (creating tolerance). The same method is being used orally, for food allergies (OIT). Studies done show that OIT has a success rate of 85+% for Ige (anaphylactic) food allergies. That is a pretty good success rate. There are groups of people that would not benefit from OIT. Two of those groups are individuals with EOE (I will talk more about that later), and uncontrolled asthma.
Desensitization has been done for ages and even traces back to mid-evil times when people would inject themselves with tiny amounts of arsenic, in order to protect themselves from being poisoned. Think about the movie The Princess Bride where Wesley talks about building up immunity to iocane powder.In the same way, it is also possible to build up immunity to foods we are allergic to.
Treatment can take as little as 6 months to many years, and maintenance is required for the rest of the individual’s life. It is important to note that desensitization (or OIT) does not mean that the person is no longer allergic. It means that they are tolerant. In our case, we are hoping to increase Kenna’s tolerance enough that she can “free-eat” her allergen, without risk of reaction. I definitely will not be encouraging her to eat scrambled eggs all day, but having a cupcake or donut at a birthday party will make the world of difference for her. I will be talking more in depth about Kenna’s treatment, the process, risks and benefits, what age is best, and myths in the future.
I know that desensitization works because we were able to desensitize Kenna with her milk allergy. From a young age, we would give her small amounts of cooked milk in a muffin. Over time, I would increase the amount of milk, and/or decrease the cooking time. Kenna gradually tolerated more and more amounts of milk. When Kenna was about 5 and tolerating muffins and pancakes with ease, our allergist encouraged us to move on to cooked cheese. Then to regular cheese. Then yogurt. With time, Kenna was able to eat milk products with no reaction. Her blood test numbers (RASTs) came down until eventually she was not allergic anymore. It was a wake up call to me, reminding me of how amazing our bodies are! We are able to adapt and change.
Although I knew that desensitization worked, I was afraid of Kenna’s egg allergy (which was much more severe than her milk allergy). One day I noticed a flier on Facebook advertising a Q&A seminar for OIT at a local hospital. I jumped on the opportunity to learn more. After learning about OIT we decided to put Kenna on the wait list. After 6 months of waiting we started treatment and I can’t wait to share our OIT journey with you!
If you are interested in OIT for you or a loved one, here is a great place to start. OIT is growing, and there may be a treatment center in your area. Ask around, you may already know someone who is in, or has completed, OIT.