Exposure to dangerous foods fights allergies - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Exposure to dangerous foods fights allergies

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West Bloomfield WJRT -

(02/25/14) - For someone living with food allergies, the tiniest exposure can be deadly, which is why many schools have banned peanuts and anything made with them. But, it turns out, the best way to a treat these allergies, may be eating the very foods that trigger dangerous reactions.

A 9 year old drinking a glass of milk isn't all that interesting, unless, of course like Hannah, that 9 year old has a severe milk allergy.

"She could have severe, severe reactions just from coming in contact with the allergens," said Kelly Potochny, Hannah's mother.

She says Hannah first showed signs of food allergies when she developed a rash after breast feeding as a tiny baby.

"She was severely allergic to milk, eggs and peanuts and was reacting just through drinking it in the breast milk," Kelly said.

The allergies Hannah has lived with all of her life put her at risk for much more than a rash. Exposure to even tiny amounts of milk, eggs or peanuts could kill send her into anaphylaxis and kill her.  

"It's always in the back of your mind, everywhere you go, everything you do is this potentially going to be a life-threatening thing," Kelly said.

Hannah's allergies impact every aspect of the Potochny's lives.

"Can't just go to a birthday party, and she can't have the cake, the ice cream," said Hannah's father, Dane.

"Family parties, get-togethers and holidays, it's like we want to go, but we don't want to keep saying, can you rearrange the whole menu so that we can come?" Kelly said.

The allergies are not just triggered by what Hannah eats or drinks, but by what she touches, even whom she touches, and what they have eaten.

"We have to constantly be making sure that she's not coming in contact with it, she's not holding hands or touching someone else, or the crayons that someone else was touching and they had a cream cheese on their bagel in the morning," Kelly said.

Hannah and her three sisters are home-schooled, something that felt like the only choice to the Potochny's when Hannah was ready for kindergarten.

"There is no way we can send her to school and feel confident that she is going to be safe there. We know that they can do everything they can do to try, but as a parent, we would not be able to function," Kelly said.  

So, how do you get from a potentially life threatening reaction to the slightest exposure to anything made with milk, to eating a nightly ice cream sandwich?

For Hannah, that journey started in Dr. Chad Mayer's West Bloomfield office. He is the only doctor the Potochny's could find who was doing something called food desensitization - where people are exposed to their allergens as a treatment.

"You would tell them about it and they would say 'don't do it' family doctors, allergists, pediatricians, you would tell them about it and they would say, 'absolutely not, it is not FDA approved, don't do it,'" Dane said.

But, food desensitization, Mayer says, is nothing new. It has been around since the early 1900s, and there is mounting research that backs it up.

In fact, Mayer says, it is essentially the same is getting an shot for a ragweed or pet allergy. "You are tricking the body into not reacting into that allergen that you've just given to them."

Desensitization must be done under the close supervision of a doctor specifically trained in it. The treatment starts with exposure to microscopic amounts of the allergen to desensitize, and ultimately, gets to the maintenance phase. That is where Hannah is, getting the equivalent to a glass of milk daily.

Dr. Mayer says that will gradually changes Hannah's immune system, "where it will stop recognizing what you are allergic to as an allergen."

The road to her nightly ice cream sandwich has been long, including, Kelly says, weekly visits to increase Hannah's exposure to milk.

"It took us 7 months to get through it, but it was well worth it," she said.

Hannah, could not agree more.

"It was really hard, but it was worth it 'cause now I can have milk and everything and ice cream," she said.

And she can have as much as she wants.

Desensitization works for eggs, peanuts and other foods. The Potochny's chose milk first because it is in more foods.

This is not something you can try at home. Desensitization must be done under a trained allergist's supervision. For more information about Dr. Chad Mayer, click HERE.  

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