HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Keeping your kids safe from food allergies can be a full-time job. So when you can’t have your eyes on your kids all the time, how do you keep them safe from that forbidden food?
The number of hospital visits and food allergy cases is on the rise and that has parents, now more than ever, doing their best to keep their kids away from those foods.
Of course, that’s easier said than done and that’s why some families are taking part in trials and therapies aimed at getting rid of allergies altogether.
“I think I cried for quite some time because he was allergic to so many things,” Martina Manning said as she remembered that life-changing moment when she gave yogurt to her baby Reid, who’s now 12-years-old.
Minutes later, his face broke out in hives and doctors soon discovered he had a whole host of allergies.
“So it was just scary,” Manning recalls.
It turns out that Reid was allergic not only to yogurt but nuts, wheat, soy, corn and dairy. As he got older, all but one of those allergies went away.
“He would lay in bed crying,” Manning recalls. “’This stinks, this just stinks. I don’t understand why I can’t have nuts, why I just can’t be like other kids.’”
Reid isn’t alone.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 13 kids has food allergies with 9,500 hospital visits a year. The number of cases has shot up at least 50 percent.
The CDC reports that the most problematic foods include peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, but world-renowned University of South Florida allergist Dr. Richard Lockey warns, not so fast.
“Absolutely, it’s being blown out of proportion,” Lockey told WFLA News Channel 8. “Most people don’t have a food allergy but when they have a food allergy, they get a reaction and the parents are going to witness that reaction.”
How do you know if it’s a reaction? Lockey told us it typically happens within 30 minutes of eating the food and that’s when parents need to make a beeline to their doctor’s office.
“We’ll do a history, a physical, and 95 percent of the time, we can tell from the history, most likely, what caused the problem,” Lockey said.
Despite all the hysteria, he insists that peanuts are the worst offender.
As for Reid, everything came to a head on a field trip when he mistakenly ate a friend’s dessert that had peanuts on it.
“Oh my gosh, my child might die right here on vacation,” Manning recalls. “I can’t go through that anymore. I’ve spent so many years in fear for my child’s life.”
Then came the game changer, with a program that desensitizes some people, like Reid, to peanuts.
“But I was so scared to do it because the thought of taking him and having him eat something that could potentially kill him was very frightening,” Manning says about her initial fears.
But after taking that first frightening step, she’s now giving Reid proper peanut proportions as his body is slowly getting used to it. Reid was treated by a Sarasota allergist Dr. Hugh Windom.
It’s similar to FDA clinically approved trials happening right now at USF.
“Our impression is that we are able to make a lot of them tolerant to peanuts and if not completely tolerant, their tolerant to eat one or two or three peanuts and that no longer causes severe reaction,” said Lockey.
“Something that could kill me,” that’s how 12-year-old Reid saw peanuts for most of his life.
“Something that would always be around the corner waiting for me that I would have to avoid,” he said.
Now Reid’s just looking forward to eating that first peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“It’s miraculous because it changes a child’s life,” his mother told WFLA News Channel 8. “They no longer have to live in fear.”
Lockey believes the trials will be the first of many ways for people to become immune, tolerant or desensitized and to always remember to have an EpiPen on hand to reverse the effect. You never know when you might need it.
As for the USF study, it began about a year ago and we won’t know exactly how well it worked until it’s over.
The research clinic is now recruiting children ages 4 to 17 for the next round of the study, which is expected to last six months and will not include a food challenge.
Participants must have had a clinical diagnosis of severe peanut allergies, and be able to commit to multiple visits to the research lab. Initial visits last around 90 minutes, and maintenance visits take about 30 minutes.
For more information on becoming part of the research, contact the University of South Florida Allergy, Asthma and Immunology clinical research unit at 813-631-4024.