Desensitization Program Using Peanut Candies Helps Girl With Food Allergy

A food allergy desensitization program is allowing a seventh-grade student to live without the daily fear of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. 12-year-old Kirsten Mahoney would once have suffered a potentially fatal response after eating a snack containing peanuts. She has undergone treatment in Des Moines that has tamed her peanut allergy. By eating peanuts daily, Kirsten has developed a tolerance for the peanut protein that would once have wreaked havoc on her body.

According to USA Today, the program involves microscopic doses of the allergy-causing food. Kirsten's treatment began with grape Kool-Aid mixed with small doses of peanut flour. As the body builds up tolerance, patients are able to consume higher doses of their allergen without experiencing a negative reaction. Kirsten is the first graduate of the program, and is able to eat up to 12 peanuts twice a day with no allergic reaction.

The entire program took about five months, as the doses of peanuts increased to peanut flour mixed with pudding, then to peanut M&Ms, and finally to peanut butter. Dr. Whitney Molis explained how the program works: “ We're starting with tiny, microscopic doses of peanut protein and then we're fooling the immune system by giving them such a small dose that they can't detect it.”

Dr. Molis cautioned parents not to try desensitization treatment at home; this method must be conducted at a hospital where emergency medical treatment is available. Each dose made Kirsten nauseated, dizzy, and fatigued. “It takes a really, really dedicated, committed family that's really invested in this process,” says Dr. Molis. “They have to come in every week for five to six months and they have to be extremely diligent at home, that they measure their doses carefully, that they get them at the right time, that they don't miss doses.”

She commented on the results of the program, saying “This is very exciting because this is the first time we've had anything to actively treat these patients with, versus just avoidance.” Although the program is still in the research phase, doctors hope that eventually, others will be able to benefit from desensitization therapy.

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