Desensitizing a Child with Peanut Allergies

*Disclaimer: My actions described in this post are controversial and possibly dangerous. I am not recommending you copy my actions, just telling my story.
We found out our son was allergic to peanuts when he was 11 months old. I immediately took him to the doctor where a positive RAST test proved his allergy. Our life following that diagnosis changed forever.

We no longer allowed any peanut products in our home. We eliminated most processed food from our lives and upped our omega-3 intake. We vigilantly read product labels, carried medications, and asked about peanuts on every outing.

For the most part, we did a great job of keeping him peanut-safe. But sometimes we didn't. After asking on every visit for a few months, we found restaurants that we knew were safe. But they weren't.

At one "safe" restaurant, my son ate a peanut butter filled enchilada. Really???? He vomited at the table, outside, and again a few minutes later. His face was swollen and full of hives. That was the worst time and thankfully, he has always been really responsive to benadryl.

But that's how it would go. Avoidance and occasional accidents - sometimes resulting in hives and sometimes hives/swelling/vomiting.

When we'd go grocery shopping, I'd quiz my son on packaging, especially candy. Quite often, peanut containing candies are packaged in orange and yellow wrappers. Thank you candy makers, for making it so easy. But then there's the gray area of "may contain" and "processed on the same equipment".

For years, we avoided all "may contains" and "processed in the same facility or on the same equipments." But then I heard about studies showing slight exposure to peanut flour was helping children with peanut allergies be less reactive.

So I decided to do my own experiments. First, we started letting peanut products back into the house. Not in a wild spree - just one lonely jar of peanut butter in an unreachable place. We used caution while using it, but it was there.

Then, we started letting him eat things that were processed in the same facilities as nuts and had no problems. Then, we started letting him eat little bits of "may contain" items. We touched him after we had eaten peanuts. Little by little, we were upping his exposure. We did this for years.

Just sending him to a public preschool and kindergarten most likely upped his exposure as well.

Now he's in first grade and will be eating lunch with other children on a daily basis. We have decided not to involve the school this year, to avoid segregation, so I needed to know what would happen if he were to touch peanuts.

It started with us rubbing an unshelled peanut on his arm. He violently opposed us, but we did it anyway. And he had no reaction.

A few weeks later, I told him I'd be smearing peanut butter on his cheek and he was outraged! We worked out a deal (nice!) and I smeared half a teaspoon of peanut butter on his cheek. He started trying to wash it off immediately but the fact remains that he was touched by pure peanut butter, it stayed on his cheek for a few seconds (grrr...) and I only lazily washed it off with water. No reaction!

The next day I scraped his arm again with a peanut. He was so mad, but again: he had no reaction.

Then, I let him eat half of a granola bar that says "May contain peanuts". These are not allowed in our house because he reacted to them when he was younger (and they're processed) but I was in a testing mode. He ate it with no reaction.

He was supposed to have a food challenge in the doctor's office at age 4, but the doctor refused. She said that if we knew he was still allergic, it wasn't worth doing. So we let it go. Now at age 6, I wonder if he has outgrown his peanut allergy or if he's just less sensitive.

I doubt I'd ever be able to get my son to willingly eat a peanut or peanut butter. He can smell them and is not a fan. But eventually, I may chop a few up and see what happens. I understand how that sounds (somebody call child protective services!) but I am completely prepared. We have benadryl, two epi-pens, and a very responsive 911 system. Not that I'm depending on 911 - I have no issues injecting him with epinephrine.

I won't be mixing any actual peanuts into his food anytime soon, and not without his knowledge and consent (the latter making sure I won't be able to try it until he's much older!) I am happy that he's not as touch sensitive as he used to be. And that he's been able to tolerate bits of "may contain" products.

I highly doubt he'd ever trade food with anyone at school (trust me: he's greedy about food) but if he were to rub against peanut butter on the table or eat a bite of someone's cookie, I now have a lot more confidence that he'll be okay.

Maybe he'll be one of the lucky few that actually "outgrows" his allergy. Here's hoping.


Malia said...

I say kudos to you for being smart and careful and aware of what your child can and can not tolerate. Allergies are strange, you can outgrow them and you can obtain later in life. I know MANY adults who have allergies (food and otherwise) that they didn't have as children. My own mother developed an allergy to cats while she was pregnant with me!

Your information will likely help and encourage other families who find themselves in similar situations.

Cher said...

Thats is all awesome to know! My 2 year old has a peanut allergy and I give him foods made in a peanut factory (as it seems like everything is that he wants! - even spinach said it!)

HollyB said...

My SIL sent me this link.. I am glad to see your son out grew it. I reaized from my own testing that my daughter was allergic to peanuts... it was then confirmed at the allergist. I still would let her eat "processed in faciity" ect.. but I have noticed that some things she use to be able to eat, she can no longer. So I am afraid to give her any nuts since she just recently had a reaction to almonds. She is only 2 and a 1/2 so maybe by the time she is 6 we will be as lucky as you and your son!

Midnite Skys said...

I was allergic to peanut butter and chocolate as a child and can eat it now. But then I just got hives when I ate it. Funny thing is I ate the peanut butter once in a while cause I liked the taste. I sneak it. my face would rash out in blotches and it would give me away to the mom..... I was in high school before I realized that "it is written all over your face" was a metaphor.LOL! Cause that what she say when I told her I wasn't eating peanut butter..... Now I can eat without any problems... Oh and chocolate- gives me a bad migraine headache if I eat over a "fun sized" piece.... So I eat a fun sized piece or a small piece of cake .. etc... I still like the taste of white chocolate, the chocolate I could have when I was a child...

jodi said...

I found this really interesting. Our neighbor's child is allergic to peanuts too. Because of that we are always checking labels. We are always cautious of "may contain" and "processed on the same equipment", any foods like that are on a high shelf in our home.
thank you for sharing this

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