Zack Annis was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy as a toddler. He experienced an anaphalactic reaction at 18 months, and ever since that day, his mom Angie has kept vigilant watch over his food intake. “We changed everything. We went through everything in our house. When we go to the store, even still today, I turn over everything I buy,” she says.
Now that Zack is a teenager, making more decicisions independently, they began searching for a way to make his world safer. As it turns out, his answer was to consume the very thing he was allergic to. This careful and calculated methodology, known as Oral Immunotherapy (OIT), is administered under the careful watch of allergist Dr. Sakina Bajowala.
She explains, “Oral immunotherapy is a way of inducing tolerance to a food that your body is hypersensitive to. So in essence, we introduce very, very small amounts of the food back through the digestive tract on a regular basis and we gradually increase the dose over time to over the period of anywhere from 6 months to a year or more, get you from eating none of it, to being able to tolerate a full serving of that food.”
Zach started OIT in July of 2014 with the equivalent of one millionth of a peanut in the form of a drop under his tongue. He has continued carefully increasing dosage under Dr. Bajowala’s protocol, and is now safely ingesting three peanuts.
And one day, Zack will graduate from this therapy, once he passes what is known as a 24 peanut challenge. “24 peanuts is a substantial amount of peanut protein and that would constitute a full serving. And if he graduates, which I have full confidence that he will, he will be allowed to freely consume peanuts in his diet,” Dr. Bajowala says.
But this therapy is not a cure, it’s a management strategy, which means they will continue taking precautions and actively incorporating OIT treatment.
Despite the potential severity of allergic food reactions in patients like Zack, Dr. Bajowala says that in most cases, food sensitivity does not translate to a full-blown allergy. But if you do suspect a food allergy, she recommends checking it out. “If you have symptoms like abdominal pain, rash, trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling after consuming a food, you should consult a physician because food allergy reactions are unpredictable, which means that one time you may just have a little tingling in your mouth and the second time you have an exposure, you may have throat swelling,” she says.