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How new therapies are treating allergies one tiny bite at a time

More than 32 million Americans, including kids, have food allergies. Now, new therapies have been approved, but researchers worry many people aren't aware.

CHICAGO — Milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, and shellfish — the list goes on. There are more than 32 million people, including children, who have food allergies in the U.S. One bite of the wrong food could kill them. New therapies were approved just as COVID was hitting, so researchers worry that not everyone is aware of them.

A popsicle is safe for Adelina Ziemann, but not everything is.

“I was throwing up and my skin was really rash-y,” Adelina remembers after a reaction.

Adelina is allergic to peanuts, and she knows all too well that she can’t enjoy everything her little sister Zoe can.

Her mom, Amanda Ziemann recalls another time Adelina had a reaction.

“She and her friend got into a bag of what they thought was M&M’s but were Reese’s pieces,” Amanda tells Ivanhoe.

One in 50 kids has a peanut allergy like Adelina. It’s the most likely food to cause a reaction. In fact, there’s been a 21 percent increase in peanut allergies in children since 2010.

New immunotherapy, or OIT, is the latest therapy that slowly introduces tiny doses of the forbidden food.

Allergist and immunologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Melanie Makhija, MD, explains, “We actually start with 1/600th of a peanut.”

In 2020, the FDA approved the first treatment for kids four to 17 with a peanut allergy. Palforzia is a drug made from peanut flour.

“The goal of oral immunotherapy is to trick the child's body into thinking they're not allergic,” Dr. Makhija further explains.

A recent study found that 72 percent of people who suffer from a life-threatening peanut allergy didn’t even know OIT existed.

After one year of OIT, Adelina can now eat one peanut’s worth of protein a day.

“Every morning, I mix in peanuts with something else and I have to eat it,” Adelina tells Ivanhoe.

Patients, like Adelina, who begin OIT, will need to continue to expose themselves to small doses of peanut protein for the rest of their lives or the life-threatening reactions could return.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.


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