A hopeful treatment for those with severe food allergies
By Carin R. Kirkegaard; photo courtesy of the Enquist family
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, “researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18. That’s one in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.”
Mason Enquist happens to be one who lives with a severe peanut allergy. When Mason was 15 months old, his mom, Leah Enquist took him with her to the car dealer. She planned to stay at the dealer’s shop while the work was completed. Like every mother with a toddler in tow, she had an arsenal of tricks in her bag to keep her young son occupied while they waited, including a peanut butter sandwich.
Once settled in the waiting area, Leah pulled out Mason’s sandwich. Mason took a bite, no bigger than the size of a fingernail, she said. Mason’s lips immediately turned blue. He vomited and his entire body broke out in hives. The paramedics were called and they were able to get the allergic reaction under control.
Mason’s allergy is so severe that even touching a surface that was touched by peanuts can cause his hands to break out in hives. When the family flew to Hawaii for vacation, they were able to board the plane early and wipe down the surfaces in their seat area. Since they would be in the air for such a long time, they packed dozens of EpiPens to have on the flight, in case Mason had a reaction over the water.
The Enquist family has learned to live with Mason’s allergy daily. At Timber Trail Elementary where Mason attends school, Leah always volunteers to be the room parent so she is certain her input will be included with classroom parties. At lunch, Mason sits at the nut-free table and the school nurse keeps EpiPens in the office. The Enquists also keep EpiPens on hand at the homes of Mason’s closest friends.
Mason says, “having an allergy is like worrying about someone trying to hurt you every day.”
To help with this worry, Mason sees a food allergy specialist, Daniel Soteres, M.D., MPH at Asthma and Allergy Associates in Colorado Springs. Soteres specializes in oral immunotherapy. This is a treatment where a person with a food allergy regularly ingests an increasing amount of the allergen. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “the goal of therapy is to raise the threshold that may trigger a reaction and provide the allergic individual protection against the accidental ingestion of the allergen.”
After waiting a year on the waitlist, Mason started treatment with Soteres. Mason’s first dose was the equivalent of one three hundredth of a peanut. Every two weeks, as long as he doesn’t have any reaction, Mason goes back to the office and gets an up-dose of a portion of a peanut.
The end-goal isn’t to someday eat a peanut butter sandwich, but rather to know that if Mason inadvertently comes in contact with peanuts his body will be able to handle the allergen without it becoming a life threatening situation.
“Mason is so brave,” said Leah. When he goes to the doctor for an up-dose, he knows what happens when his body reacts to peanuts, but he takes the new dose each time.