New Oral Immunotherapy Offers ‘Peace of Mind’ for Adelina’s Severe Peanut Allergy

Eight-year-old Adelina is one of approximately 8% of children in the U.S. affected by a food allergy – a significant health concern that can pose life-threatening scenarios for patients and families on top of financial burdens and day-to-day challenges. As a baby, Adelina’s parents noticed she’d develop a rash when there were peanuts present. The rashes continued in attempting to give her peanut butter, and she was eventually diagnosed with her peanut allergy before two years old. So began a new level of caution and emergency preparedness for the Ziemann family.

“We’d have to check all labels, carry an EpiPen, prepare for any and all playdates and prep those parents in charge with the EpiPen and strict instructions in case of exposure,” says mom, Amanda. “We also have yearly check-ins with her allergist to monitor her levels and allergies and have a 504 plan [customized plans for children with physical or mental impairments that accommodate their needs] with the school.”             

Until recently, peanut allergy management has been limited to strict avoidance and ready access to epinephrine in case of exposure. In 2020, the FDA approved a drug product made from peanut flour for use in oral immunotherapy that helps reduce the severity of allergic reactions. This was the first approved treatment for patients with peanut allergy ages 4-17 years.

Melanie Makhija, MD, Attending Physician, Allergy & Immunology, explains the treatment as “a desensitization which means giving children increasing amounts of the food they’re allergic to beginning with approximately 1/600th of a peanut, to trick their bodies into thinking they’re not allergic.” Treatment involves a strictly monitored dosing regimen for the first six months and continued daily exposure through the “maintenance” phase. “Treatment is lifelong, so they need to continue to have a set amount of peanut in their diet on a regular basis to stay desensitized," says Makhija.

Adelina started the treatment in July 2021 and, while it required new logistical juggling for the family, has been tolerating it well and since moved onto maintenance. It’s also given the Ziemanns peace of mind as they go about their daily life and activities.

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month and Adelina shares that while "it can be stressful and might be scary, my doctor helped make me feel comfortable and safer. Once I learned to read labels and ask questions, I felt a lot better, and even though I still have to be careful, the treatment makes me feel a whole lot safer."

Amanda notes that “As a parent to a child with a food allergy, having a strong treatment team to support life with a food allergy has made a world of difference in our life. We feel grateful to have a doctor like Dr. Makhija who has advocated for us, patiently explained things to us, and made us feel like we had some semblance of control over something that can be so scary.”

Learn more about the Oral Immunotherapy Program at Lurie Children’s.

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