Living with food allergies: Finding a cure

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD/MEDIA GENERAL) — Many people watch what they eat in hopes of making healthy choices or to lose weight.

But imagine watching every bite of what you eat because certain foods could send you to the emergency room or even cause death.

Eighteen-year-old Gabrielle Alter is a senior at East Grand Rapids High School. She’s bright and bubbly, a cross country runner and is looking forward to heading off to college next year.

Gabrielle Alter has been allergic to milk since she was a little girl.
(Gabrielle Alter, 18, has been allergic to milk since she was a little girl)

But unlike most other high school students, Alter said they know her by name at the emergency room at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“Well, I’ve always been allergic to milk,” said Alter.

In fact, when she was a little girl her face broke out after her dad kissed her with a small amount of milk left in his mustache from cereal he had eaten.

“Like most kids can go out and hang out with friends. Maybe have a pizza or something. I can’t do that,” said Alter.

The number of people with food allergies is growing, but the reason isn’t known.

There are theories including the hygiene theory. As people do better staying away from germs and bacteria, infections have dropped while food allergies have risen.

“We do know we can modulate the immune system. But it’s just challenging to find out in this life-threatening disorder how to carefully do it,” said Dr. Karyn Gell of Grand Rapids Allergy.

Dr. Gell says as of late, advances in finding a cure for food allergies is where the research has been focused. She says there’s reason to be excited.

“And it’s hope and it’s working. We just need to iron out the details who is the best candidate, who are at high risk,” said Dr. Gell.

Dr. Karyn Gell of Grand Rapids Allergy explains the latest advances in finding a cure for food allergies.
(Dr. Karyn Gell of Grand Rapids Allergy explains the latest advances in finding a cure for food allergies)

New information suggests a peanut patch may be a safe way to help many people suffering from peanut allergies.

A team of researchers released the results of their study over the weekend at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) yearly meeting.

Allergy patches would be a new way to create tolerance for people allergic to peanuts. The patches would introduce small doses of peanut proteins through the skin.

This study was a double-blind study over one year. That means the 221 people in the study did not know if they were getting the patch or the placebo. The people in the study “underwent an oral peanut challenge” at the start of the study and at the end, according to the article published by the AAAAI.

According to the study’s results, one of the patches showed the most promise. After one year, the people on the 250 micrograms patch were able to tolerate four peanuts, ten times what they could before using the patch.

One percent of the people in the study dropped out because of adverse symptoms. According to the article in the AAAAI, there were no serious adverse reactions to the patch.

But some of the most recent studies are looking at adding a probiotic with a small amount of the allergen.

“We’re learning so much lately about probiotics and bacterial flora of our gastric tract they thought maybe if we did that together, we’ll have more success,” said Gell.

So far, there’s been a pretty good response from the small group of patients tested, but it’s not a big enough study to put it out to the public for wide usage yet.

“What it helps patients do is reduce the fear of an accident. To reduce the fear of every time you eat you might have a reaction was a huge quality of life improvement for most of these patients,” said Dr. Gell.

“Luckily, people are really accommodating now. More people understand because having a food allergy now is more common that it was when I was younger,” said Alter.

As for Gabrielle and her milk allergy, she knows it’s probably something she will have to deal with her entire life.

She remains armed with her EpiPens and anti-histamines wherever life takes her.


Online: Food Allergy Research and Education

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