About 200,000 Americans require medical care each year because of a severe allergic reaction to food, according to Food Allergy Research and Education, also known as FARE. 10% of adults and 7% of kids had a food allergy.
Dr. Elena Lewis, with the Asthma Allergy Centers of Southwest Michigan in Portage, offers oral immunotherapy, or OIT, which she said nationwide has about an 80% to 90% success rate of nearly eliminating severe allergies. She said it took small doses, and a lot of patience, but a safe lifestyle was achievable.
“I have not done as many, but my success rate right now is like at 100 percent. But I’m sure it will fall in 80 to 90 once I have enough patients that have tried it,” said Lewis.
Lewis said she had a success story when 15-year-old Iswari Bhatt from Kalamazoo tried OIT. Bhatt had lived with a severe dairy allergy her entire life.
Bhatt said she chose OIT to live a normal life, and of course, to enjoy ice cream like any other normal teenager.
“You don’t really realize that it’s weird not being able to do these things everybody else does. It’s kind of nice being able to join in. I really appreciate it,” said Bhatt.
Bhatt said that Lewis’ treatment included small doses of milk and water and she slowly added more milk each time. It started at 10 milliliters, then went up.
“In the beginning it was pretty simple because it was such a small dose. As the dose started increasing, I definitely started getting stomach pains. My throat would get really itchy. All I did was talk to my doctors and as long as it wasn’t too severe she kept going,” said Bhatt.
Bhatt said she has not ditched her EpiPen just yet to be on the safe side, but through OIT, she nearly eliminated a severe dairy allergy. Bhatt also said she has one cup of milk a day to keep her tolerance up.
In 2020 the Food and Drug Administration approved the first peanut allergy drug for treatment called Palforzia, which is backed up by medical professionals across the country. It was also offered at the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center.
Lewis said some patients still had their doubts before trying OIT, but she believes the benefits out weight those risks.
"We're doing it in such a slow controlled manner that you're going to get mild symptoms and not likely to get anaphylaxis. We have a lot of protocols to make sure it is safe. It is definitely safer than the risk that you take just eating the food accidentally in day-to-day life,” said Lewis.
For anyone interested in OIT, it is as simple as seeing an allergist who offers it and coming up with a plan you feel safe doing.
Lewis said OIT does not work for sensitivities, such as people who are lactose intolerant.