University Hospitals doctor prescribing peanut M&Ms to reverse deadly peanut allergies

'Curing' peanut allergies in kids with ... peanuts?
Published: Apr. 27, 2018 at 5:41 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 30, 2018 at 12:54 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Roughly two children in every classroom in America suffers from allergies to foods, like peanuts.

But a University Hospitals doctor is now reversing these dangerous food allergies, and desensitizing these kids for good.

It's cutting edge medicine that patients are crossing state lines to access.

Seven-year-old Edward Wolken has a dangerous allergy to peanuts.

But every day he eats three peanut M&Ms, as prescribed by his doctor.

Edward doesn't remember what it felt like to have an allergic reaction to peanuts, but the memory is vivid for his mom, Chris.

"He was coughing, he was gasping for breath, he couldn't breathe," she recalled.

Every day she worries about what he'll be exposed to.

Since December, Edward has been undergoing Oral Immunotherapy, or OIT at University Hospitals offices in Beachwood.

"I was anxious for the first day but I was just really excited that this was going to work," she said.

University Hospitals Dr. Eli Silver said OIT has been around for more than 100 years and is a proven way to desensitize the body to environmental allergies like pollen or bees.

However, protocols have expanded in the last decade, given the rise in food allergies.

"I mean it's almost like an epidemic," said Silver.

Silver starts by administering extremely tiny doses of peanut flour, dissolved in Kool-Aid.

Sometimes the doses are as little as .00001 or of a peanut, below a patient's threshold.

They're then monitored for an hour for symptoms of a reaction.

Eventually patients are sent home to dose daily on their own.

After a week or two, patients "dose up" -- increasing intervals until milestones are met.

"So that allows us to get behind the immune system to tolerize it and teach it not to react to the allergy in question," said Silver.

He said it usually takes about three months before patients are safe from cross contamination, and accidental bites of something with peanuts.

That's the phase Edward has most recently entered.

Chris said she now feels more comfortable sending her son to a friend's house to play.

"If there were peanuts on the counter and they served him lunch afterwards, he's not going to need an Epipen and an ambulance at their house. It's a huge relief for us," she said.

After about four or five months kids in OIT eat their first peanut, and they add to the count until they reach full desensitization in about eight months.

"So within a year their life could significantly change," said Silver.

Silver said maintenance is required to hang on to the desensitization state, but longterm studies show that 60 percent of OIT patients clear their allergy completely after three to five years of daily dosing.

Currently, Silver is treating 165 patients. He has an 87 percent success rate.

Sixty-one patients are now up to only a maintenance dose.

This protocol is working with patients as young as a year old and it will work for adults as well.

According to Silver, oral immunotherapy works with nearly every food allergy including tree nuts, milk and egg.

Although he admits he hasn't quite figured out how to get shrimp into small enough pieces yet.

This is a cutting edge, drug-free approach to curing allergies, that the doctor himself said he is still wowed by.

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