For Nathan, it all started with an egg. A few months before his 1st birthday I gave him a scrambled egg. He proceeded to rub it all over his face and immediately broke out in hives everywhere it touched. Our life as a food allergy family had begun.
We didn’t know a lot about food allergies, he was the first in our family. Unfortunately the doctors we encountered didn’t know much about them either. We had a blood test shortly after his egg reaction which confirmed a high immunoglobin E (igE) level for egg and peanut. We also had multiple skin tests over the years with large hive reactions. At the time, the doctors advised us to never give Nathan peanut or any tree nuts because of the risk of cross contamination. We were very fortunate to avoid any accidental ingestion for the next 6 years but the threat always loomed. Thankfully, he did tolerate egg in a baked form (cakes, cookies) but we avoided it in any other form.
Learning about Oral Immunotherapy Treatment (OIT)
I had heard about OIT in the news in research programs but didn’t become aware of its availability in private practice until 2016. As both a food allergy mom and a physician, it became my passion to learn everything I could about this revolutionary treatment. Imagine the potential to free my son of the serious adverse reactions we were constantly seeking to avoid. Imagine the impact on our entire family if we could find a way to address his food allergy. When you live in a food allergy family you always check ingredients and labels, ask questions, consider the restaurants you go to, whose house you go, and where you travel. You forget about how life was before food allergies.
The more I researched, the more I discovered how far food allergy treatment had come in the last 6-8 years. Yet no one had ever told me. Finally, there was hope. Hope to evolve beyond the “solution” we were offered at the time: “Here’s your EpiPen prescription, avoid all nuts and we’ll see you next year”.
Living in San Antonio, we found an allergist that offered OIT for peanuts. Nathan was 6 when he started peanut OIT and completed it in 6 months without significant incident. We got a taste of food allergy freedom but with other potential tree nut allergies, we decided to travel to see Dr. Silvers in Dallas for a consult. He repeated skin and blood tests, and recommended food challenges prior to tree nut OIT. We had multiple fails during the challenges, but Nathan was always willing to press on, understanding the opportunities treatment could have in his life. Despite these setbacks, his trust in Dr. Silvers was unwavering. Nathan and the other kids with food allergies are so wise and brave for their young age. They just want to be able to do and eat what other kids do every day.
Now 7 years old, Nathan started multi-nut OIT for cashew, walnut and macadamia nuts in Dallas. We were able to transfer to the Central Austin office and ultimately were able to do our weekly updoses in San Antonio for the last 3 months. He finished again in about 6 months without incident and also passed food challenges for pecan and pistachio after completing his OIT. He has been in maintenance for 5 months without a problem and done so many new things that most 8-year olds don’t think twice about. He had never eaten at a bakery or had a cookie from an open case. Never had scooped ice cream. We didn’t have to use Halloween as a way to review all the candy he couldn’t have. We’ve had Thai food and traveled multiple times without any worries. He is a normal 8 year old! He takes his “dose” every day and has never had to miss out because of it or the rest period that comes with it. Some weeks it takes a little planning but what in life worth having doesn’t? He is active in sports and karate and always has been throughout this process. He doesn’t love to eat nuts but the worry that he eats something with them is gone. He eats whatever he wants and to him his “dose” is worth it. When he has a new experience or repeated experience that he really enjoys we remember “thanks OIT!”
"The more I researched, the more I discovered how far food allergy treatment had come in the last 6-8 years. Yet no one had ever told me. Finally, there was hope."
Life after OIT
OIT has been life changing for Nathan and our entire family. People always ask me how I give my child something he’s allergic to everyday. I tell them we decided to take the offense instead of always be on defense. Take control. We still carry Epi but fortunately have never had to use it. Even if you are super diligent, accidents happen, cross contamination happens, other people aren’t always careful. Nuts are everywhere in this gluten free /paleo diet world. Most people don’t understand the difference between a food intolerance and a true food allergy. This was our way to try and give him the mos full, complete, worry- free life we could and as a parent how could you not try?
OIT is time consuming, it’s a commitment and it’s scary. But when you start, over the weeks and months, you are amazed at what your child is eating every single day. You can’t help but believe in the process and want to tell everyone about it. Today, almost everyone knows someone with food allergies but many still don’t know about OIT. Every trip and updose has been worth it. We started this OIT journey 2 years ago and I feel so fortunate to be here. I think Nathan has almost forgot what it was like to be left out of things, which again is what you can’t help to want. 8-year olds don’t like to be left out, they want to sit with their friends at school and have the surprise cookies someone brings to school. 8-year olds don’t want to have to check with mom or read the labels before you have your snack after a soccer game. Food allergy families become accustomed to avoiding things and going to their comfort places. It’s the norm. But we have a new norm now, the total freedom for our family provided by Dr. Silvers and Texan Allergy. We are eternally grateful.
- Margo Cervantes and the Cervantes Family