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Revolutionary treatment reverses dangerous food allergies

Texas Children's Hospital conducts oral immunotherapy, a six-month process

HOUSTON – When it’s time for lunch, the choices for 11-year-old Tristan Allbritton are limitless now. Instead of killing him, a peanut butter and honey sandwich would now be a good choice.

"I can have the candies I like," Tristan said. "I can freely eat what I want, and I can know I’m safe and I’m not going to have a reaction."

Tristan is undergoing oral immunotherapy, a six-month weekly process that forces his body to develop what it needs to fight off allergic reactions.

The National Institutes of Health just issued guidelines for it, and Texas Children's Hospital is conducting a clinical trial to expedite the treatment, in hopes of it one day being widely available.

The necessity to avoid a peanut butter sandwich or read the labels on food products was just a small part of the problem. Tristan’s family was deeply affected.

"We were deathly afraid we were going to get that phone call in the middle of the night, saying, 'I don't know what's going on with your son. He's not breathing,'" said Brian Albritton, Tristan’s father.

Tristan was limited when traveling. He wasn’t able to go to sleepovers or even on unaccompanied bike rides.

"Once we were done, it was just like, gosh," said Katie Albritton, Tristan’s mother. "It was like we had just won the lottery -- seriously."

Today there’s no fear, as long as Tristan takes in a small amount of peanuts a day for the rest of his life.

"If he eats a peanut butter sandwich a day for lunch or a Snickers bar, that's the equivalent, so he's gotten peanut in," allergist Dr. Patricia Gomez Dinger said. "We just never want to him to go a day without."

Dinger said it’s a lifelong commitment, but it’s a game-changer that finally frees families from fear.

"It's been life-changing -- hearing that the siblings are eating peanut butter for the very first time, or that there's peanuts in the household for the very first time, and they can go on vacation and they can go out to eat at any restaurant," Dinger said. "So (it’s) completely changing the family dynamic."

Dinger said parents considering the treatment need to know that while it works, during the first six months, the patients will run the risk of a severe reaction. That’s why the treatment is customized for each patient as he or she goes through the process.

The treatment has been so successful that Dinger’s office is adding a protocol for milk allergies soon.

There are oral immunotherapy and epicutaneous immunotherapy trials ongoing at Texas Children's Hospital.

"Currently, the oral immunotherapy trials are still enrolling patients, but milk is not guaranteed to be starting soon at Texas Children's," according to the hospital.

They also warn patients cannot simply eat what they want as they have to be careful not to eat above their total daily dose for the day of peanut.

The NIH issued guidelines about introducing peanut to infants who don't have peanut allergy, but there aren't guidelines about oral immunotherapy.