A Twin Cities doctor is working to rule out food allergies in some babies

Food allergies in children are becoming a growing health and safety concern. According to the CDC, about 8% of all children are allergic to certain foods. If you know someone who has a food allergy, you know that means worrying, reading labels, and avoiding popular foods.

Now Dr. Doug McMahon of Minnesota’s Allergy and Asthma Center is scrambling to try and seemingly erase food allergies in some of his patients, and he thinks the key may be catching them as babies. .

“If we do it in a safe process, our goal is that maybe we can deactivate this allergy,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS followed the journey of Sean Caulfield, who was just seven months old when he started experimental oral immunotherapy treatment in September 2021. Sean is allergic to peanuts, eggs and dairy. His mum Lindsay remembers the scary times when she found out he had allergies after making him scrambled eggs for the first time.

“Immediately he broke out in hives, all down his neck, face and hands,” she said.

McMahon has been practicing oral immunotherapy on children with food allergies for years. The therapy is FDA-approved for children over four years old. But McMahon is experimenting to see if it works for patients under a year old. It works by giving patients small, safe doses of the foods they are allergic to and slowly increasing the amounts over a long period of time.

For example, when we first met Sean, he was getting 1/50,000e of a peanut and 1/20,000e a regular dose of egg white and milk. But still, Lyndsay admits it can be a disturbing idea: giving her baby something that can hurt her.

“I was absolutely scared. You give your baby something that could make him sick, and you know that. I just watched him like a hawk to see if a rash broke out or his breathing changed,” she said.

Sean stays at Dr. McMahon’s office for an hour after each visit to monitor for any allergic reactions. If there isn’t, he’ll take that same dose at home every day, then increase his dose week by week as the body develops a tolerance. It is a slow and tedious process. For many immunotherapy patients, treatment lasts about nine months to a year.

Fast forward to April 2022.

Sean now eats a lunch of egg muffins, milk, and two scoops of peanut butter with sprinkles on top. All the foods that would have made him sick less than a year ago.

Dr. McMahon says he is finding that oral immunotherapy might work better on young patients like Sean, who are under a year old. The therapy has already been proven to help older children develop a tolerance to foods they are allergic to, but it tries to prove that it can apparently completely eliminate food allergies in babies. He believes it’s because their immune system is still developing.

“It seems like the immune system is so malleable at this young age, and it’s still trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. If we can get patients to that window, maybe we can teach them that these foods are acceptable. It’s kind of like reprogramming the immune system,” he said.

This research is still new and experimental. Dr. McMahon is currently working with approximately 25 patients under one year old. It should not be attempted at home and without the supervision of a physician. Sean will continue to drink and eat maintenance doses at home every day until Dr. McMahon performs lab work in six months to determine if his food allergy still exists.

Moms like Lindsay Caulfield are encouraged. After all, it’s not just about food. It’s a matter of peace of mind.

“A lot of anxiety and worry is gone,” she said.

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