What if a microscopic amount of food protein you accidentally ingested quickly resulted in life threatening symptoms such as hives, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing? This is a serious reality for patients with food allergies and results in a constant anxiety and fear of accidental ingestion. Many are never able to eat out at restaurants, go to baseball games, fly on planes, attend movies, or simply have the option to eat at any table in a cafeteria without fear. This not only affects the patients, but their families as well.
Recent statistics from Food Allergy Research and Education revealed that approximately 32 million Americans have food allergies, one for every 10 adults and one for every 13 children, or roughly two children in every classroom. This number is staggering and reinforces food allergy as a continuously rising problem of epidemic proportions. More than 50 percent of adults and 40 percent of children have experienced a severe reaction. 25 percent of children with food allergies will experience their first reaction at school and about one-third have experienced bullying, and many parents report feeling isolated.
So, with food allergies on the rise and food allergy oral immunotherapy (OIT) as a proven effective treatment option, what is the benefit? By allowing patients to slowly orally introduce their food allergen daily in weekly increasing amounts in office over a period of five to seven months, 85 to 90 percent of patients will reach a daily maintenance dose of their food allergen that provides them with protection against accidental ingestion. As long as they continue this treatment indefinitely, this built-up immunity to their food allergen will remain, allowing patients to experience a life free of constant worry. For many, this treatment option provides hope in gaining autonomy over their food allergies. Nelson Mandela said it best: may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
Erin Cuzzort, MSN, RN, FNP-C practices with Alabama Allergy & Asthma Center.
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