New treatment in Houston aims to limit allergic reactions to food

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - To reduce the risk of life-threatening allergic reactions, there's a new treatment in the Houston area called oral immunotherapy, or OIT.

In OIT, doctors expose patients with food allergies to the foods they're allergic to until they're desensitized. Right now, doctors in Houston can treat patients for a variety of nuts, milk, eggs and wheat allergies.

Dr. George Browne, of Bless You Allergy & Asthma in Friendswood, is one of the first local doctors to begin OIT treatments.

“You can actually get your body to tolerate a food that previously, if you had been exposed to it, would have had that big life-threatening allergic reaction,” Browne said.

Browne said his son has food allergies. Now, he wants to free other parents from this fear of food.

“I mean, when they come in and they know that we have an option for them, that we can free them from this, it's magical,” he said.

Nobody knows that better than Friendswood mom Katie Larson. Her son, Brendan, was allergic to several foods. They made dozens of trips, sometimes weekly, to Dallas, which was previously the only place to offer this treatment in Texas.

She said every mile was worth it.

“It's been a 100% change in our quality of life,” Larson said. “For a year-and-a-half, I haven't talked to a chef at a restaurant, I haven't read a single label, I’m kind of forgetting what the food allergy life is like at this point. So, it's just been completely life-changing for our entire family.”

OIT begins treatments with small doses, almost invisible micrograms of foods mixed in a liquid that patients drink. Once they tolerate tiny tastes, Browne gives them a bit more, gradually increasing the dose.

"Get them to a level where they free eat it, hopefully," Browne said. "That's the ultimate goal, but at least so that they're safe so that when they get exposed to the food, that they will not have a big life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis."

The downfall is, patients can have some setbacks and appointments can be time-consuming, some running as long as five hours. 

Once patients have become desensitized, they're free to eat the foods they're allergic to and they'll likely need to consume them every day for the rest of their lives. Doctors say it takes about three to eight months until patients can freely eat foods to which they are allergic.

Doctors said patients can be as young as under 1 year old or into adulthood.

No parent should ever attempt this therapy at home. Children should be monitored in a medical office while exposing them to allergens, which can be deadly. Doctors start by giving such a minuscule dose, you could not imitate their method on your own.

If you'd like to consult with a doctor about it, there are four locations in Houston offering this treatment:

Vital Allergy & Asthma
Museum Medical Tower
1213 Hermann Dr. Suite 550
Houston, TX 77004
713-820-6380

Vital Allergy & Asthma
Southeast Memorial Medical Plaza 2
11920 Astoria Blvd. Suite 370
Houston, TX 77089
713-538-1240

Woodlands Allergy
26400 Kuykendahl Rd. Unit C220
Woodlands, TX 77375
281-713-9011 or patients can schedule new appointments online at woodlandsallergy.com

Bless You Allergy St 109
1305 W Parkwood Ave
Friendswood, TX 77546
281-648-1025

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