Monday, February 22, 2010

New Food Allergy Desensitization Research Project in England

by Kelley Lindberg

The British newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that a British doctor has been awarded one million British pounds to begin a new research project on the desensitization of children to their peanut allergies. (See “AAAS: Cure for Peanut Allergy ‘Within Three Years’.”) This study will involve 104 children – his previous study involved only 23 children, and 21 of them were eventually able to tolerate a limited number of peanuts without a reaction.

This new research project is expected to last three years, and the doctor, Dr. Andrew Clark of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, expresses hope that his desensitization cure will help transform the lives of food-allergic people.

In his study, he gives children a minute amount of peanut flour mixed with yogurt. They ingest this amount at regular doses on a strict schedule, carefully desensitizing the child to the allergen over a long period of time. At the end of the study, he hopes to be able to transition to clinical treatment for other peanut-allergic patients. However, if I understand correctly, he does not yet know if these children will have to maintain a weekly dosing schedule to keep their immunity in place, or if the three-year treatment will provide a long-lasting tolerance. He says a separate long-term study is needed to determine how permanent the solution will be.

It’s exciting to see more and more studies like this being funded. Whether or not this treatment really turns out to be the “cure” we’re all hoping for remains to be seen over the next three years, of course, but this is definitely one of the more promising treatments that scientists are focusing on. As I’ve mentioned before in my blog postings, food allergy studies have a bad habit of contradicting each other, but in this case, desensitization studies seem to be showing a generally positive trend. They haven’t worked for all the participants, but enough that it’s very encouraging.

British writer Delia Lloyd, on the Politics Daily website (see “Parents Rejoice: Peanut Allergy Cure Within Sight, British Study Finds”), talks more about this study and how its results will ultimately affect food-allergic people. Her own son is allergic to peanuts, so her reaction to this study is not just informed, but personal. It’s interesting – do check it out.

Every day, I’m more encouraged about the progress I’ve seen in food allergy research over the last decade. Thanks to these dedicated scientists and researchers, maybe by the time my son is raising kids of his own, food allergies will be an easily treated or even preventable disease. It will be nice to know he can spend his sleepless nights as a parent worrying about something else, like dating, driving lessons, report cards…

Monday, February 15, 2010

A 4th Grader’s First-Hand Account of a Food Allergy Reaction

by Kelley Lindberg

Last year, my son’s best friend (who was ten years old at the time) had a reaction to some cheese hidden in a burrito that landed him in the doctor’s office and took him several days to recover from. Last week, the boy’s mom was going through his school notebook from last year, and she stumbled across an essay he’d written that she’d never known about.

In class during that time, the fourth graders all read a book about Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player, and how he overcame barriers to achieve his own success. The kids were supposed to write an essay about a barrier they’d overcome, so this boy wrote about his reaction.

His mom asked him if he would like to show it to me. She explained that it might help other kids and parents understand what it feels like to go through a severe allergic reaction to food. He said sure, and he gave it to me.

So this week, I’m happy to share this boy’s first-hand story of what it feels like to have an allergic reaction to food. Thanks, J!

“Barrier," by J.

My severe food allergies acted up and stopped me from going to school. But then I drank the DISGUSTING steroids and I was better the next day, but felt EXHAUSTED! I didn’t feel like going to sleep. My body had a fight for its life and it was tired. I spent a few days on the couch, a few weeks of tiredness, even when I went to school. I felt tired, not just because school is boring! (Except for P.E. and recess.)

I overcame it by taking the steroids and resting. I felt tired but couldn’t go to sleep. So I just lay there and rested and tried to go to sleep a few times, but couldn’t. I actually wanted to go to sleep and get some rest. I also wanted to play with my little sister.

I had to have courage that I would be o.k. If anybody teased me about them, I would just hold in my anger just like Jackie Robinson did.

Monday, February 8, 2010

To Kiss or Not to Kiss…with Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

I’m feeling a little under the weather today, so I’m repeating a Valentine’s-themed post from last year. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Valentine’s Day is almost here. Yes, it’s that time of year again… the time for love, romance, special dates – and kissing.


Just what we food-allergy sufferers need. Something else to worry about.

For young people, kissing is complicated enough. Think what kisses can lead to – brain malfunctions, ruined reputations, marriage proposals, bad dates, broken friendships, unreasonable expectations, dizziness, pregnancy, forgetfulness, poor fashion choices, high credit card bills, lousy steak dinners… and that’s all in a good weekend.

Now, throw in the fact that food allergens can stay in a person’s mouth for hours after they eat, and suddenly you’ve added “scary trips to the ER” to the list.

My son is only ten. He’s still in the “Oh gross, they’re kissing!” stage. Every time he sees someone kissing on TV, he slaps his forehead as if to say, “What are they THINKING?” I’m encouraging this attitude. As far as I’m concerned, he can think kissing is gross until he’s 35. Or 40. Really.

But sadly, I figure I’ve only got another few years (okay, I admit it, I’m optimistic) before the hormones suddenly turn from “eww” to “oooh.” And then I’ll be staying up late, worrying about all the usual things parents of teens worry about, plus that other one: “Did the girl he’s kissing eat peanuts today?”

Food allergies bring a whole new aspect – a really ugly one – to the already dangerous minefield of kissing.

In 2003, the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology published a paper called "The Hazard of Kissing When You Are Food Allergic" from Swedish doctors who studied how many allergic people had a reaction after kissing someone who’d eaten the offending food. Their study showed 12% of survey participants had an allergic reaction after kissing. (When they eliminated respondents who “didn’t know” if a reaction was caused by a kiss, the numbers rose to 16%.) That’s not comforting.

As an interesting side note, the doctors surveyed both Russian and Swedish participants. Of those, 12% of the Swedish survey participants reported a reaction, and only 5% of the Russian participants did. I can think of all sorts of jokes here about who you would rather kiss – a member of the Swedish Bikini Team or the Russian Swimming Team, but that would be rude and stereotypical. So I’ll let you come up with your own jokes.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings website outlines a 2003 case report (apparently 2003 was an extraordinarily bad year for kissing) of a seafood-allergic woman kissing her boyfriend after he’d just eaten shrimp, and then suffering from an anaphylactic reaction and having to go to the hospital ("The Kiss of Death: A Severe Allergic Reaction to a Shellfish Induced by a Good-Night Kiss").

This case report was only one of many that have been showing up with alarming frequency in the literature, so some doctors in New York decided to study how long peanut residue could stay active in the saliva of people who’ve eaten peanut butter, and whether or not brushing teeth or other “interventions” would help get rid of the allergens. They published their results in 2006 ("Peanut Allergen Exposure Through Saliva: Assessment and Interventions to Reduce Exposure"). They studied 38 people. Immediately after eating 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, the subjects’ amount of allergens in their mouth varied “considerably,” but many had levels of peanut proteins high enough to cause reactions. They tested again one hour after eating; at that point, 87% had undetectable levels. Unfortunately, that means 13% still had detectable levels of peanut in their mouth.

When they used interventions to cleanse the mouth immediately after eating peanut butter, such as rinsing or brushing their teeth, the allergens were reduced, but still remained in approximately 40% of the samples. Their conclusion: “Patients with peanut allergy require counseling regarding the risks of kissing or sharing utensils, even if their partners have brushed their teeth or chewed gum. Advice to reduce risks, although not as ideal as total avoidance, includes waiting a few hours plus eating a peanut-free meal.”

Another comment in the study added: “Teenagers with peanut and other food allergies need to be reminded that to stay safe, restraint and patience are necessary even in the most intimate situations.”

Yeah, good luck with that. Parents have been trying to remind teenagers to use restraint and patience to stay safe since they were running around poking spears in angry wooly mammoths.

So what’s a teen to do? Well, here’s what the experts recommend:

1. Tell your date what you’re allergic to, and explain how serious it is.
2. Ask your date to refrain from eating those foods on the day of your date.
3. Ask your date to brush their teeth and wash hands if they have eaten something you’re allergic to, and wait AT LEAST one hour before kissing.
4. Keep your EpiPens with you at all times.
5. Wear a medical ID bracelet, so if you end up unconscious, the EMTs will know what to do with you. A bracelet also is a good way to "break the news" to people -- when they ask what the bracelet is for, it's easy to explain food allergies without sounding like you're fishing for a kiss.

As for us parents, here’s what we can do:

1. Worry.
2. Pray.
3. Trust that we’ve taught them well.
4. Love them.
5. Breathe a sigh of relief when they come home safe with that silly look on their face. Despite the silly look.
6. Keep on the lookout for other teens who also have food allergies, and try fruitlessly to arrange accidental meetings between your child and those other teens.

Personally, I’m going to be creating a “dating application” for my son. All of his prospective dates will have to complete the application, submit to a lie detector test, and provide a $100 deposit for ambulance transportation fees before the date commences.

I can hear my son slapping his forehead now.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dip Into It! Food Allergy Dips

by Kelley Lindberg

Can you believe the New Year started only one month ago? It seems like two or three months have gone by. That’s January for you. And of course, the only month longer than January is February – I don’t care what the calendar says.

I was thinking about New Year’s, and I realized I should share a fun discovery I made for the New Year’s party I went to. At a health food store in Layton, I found Tofutti brand sour cream substitute – it’s made of soy, and it’s dairy-free and egg-free.

While it doesn’t take exactly like sour cream, I decided that if I mixed it with an envelope of dip seasoning, it might be acceptable. So I found two brands of dip mixes that are milk- and egg-free: McCormick and Western Family (both contain wheat and soy, however). I tried mixing the Western Family French Onion dip mix into the Tofutti sour cream substitute and it was GREAT! I also used the McCormick Ranch dip mix in another tub of the Tofutti, and it was pretty good. Not quite the same taste as regular ranch, but still good with fresh veggies. But the French Onion dip, I have to say, was really tasty.

McCormick also has milk- and egg-free Spinach Dip and Vegetable Dip flavors, so I’m going to try those, too, mixing them with the Tofutti and some chopped frozen spinach (thawed) and some chopped artichoke hearts.

I love making a new discovery like this – one more option for party fare is always a good thing, right?