The prevalence of food allergies has increased over the last few decades.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] estimates that one in 13 children in the United States has a food allergy, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reports that one in 50 children has a peanut allergy. A peanut allergy differs from other common food allergies in that it usually not something kids can grow out of. Although there are other conditions that affect more children than food allergies, the increase in prevalence of food allergies and the severity of reactions is what has really driven this topic to the forefront of public health discussion.
It’s hard to walk into a restaurant — or any other store — these days without seeing a food allergy warning. This label might alert customers to notify staff if they have a food allergy. Or the language may state that nuts, or some other allergen, is present in the establishment. A few states have policies about food allergy warnings in restaurants that aim to provide a safer environment.
State policies and prevention trainings for staff are great, but exposure to foods someone is allergic to can unfortunately still happen. Wouldn’t it be better if those with food allergies didn’t have to worry about these mishaps and such severe reactions when simply walking into a restaurant or store, or boarding an airplane?
Enter Palforzia, which is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration [FDA]. This medicine is supposed to help those with peanut allergies, and the results from the studies appear promising. Palforzia is described as a “standardized peanut powder product,” and it is aimed at helping those ages 4-17 as part of an oral immunotherapy protocol.
Oral immunotherapy is not a new type of treatment. Many health care providers have been practicing this type of treatment for food allergies by, over time, giving their patients small amounts of peanuts via peanut powder or flour.
So why might this new drug be special and promising? It’s because it provides a unique opportunity to standardize this type of treatment. The medication would also allow for consistency and correct dosage.
Palforzia cannot reverse a peanut allergy, but it can make living with a peanut allergy more manageable.
Palforzia cannot reverse a peanut allergy, but it can make living with a peanut allergy more manageable. This effect doesn’t mean your child who has a peanut allergy will be able to consume peanuts by the handful, but it could mean your child is now able to sit next to a friend at lunch who brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That outcome would be a win-win-win for children, parents and schools.
I had a chance to speak with a parent, Kristin, whose son has been undergoing oral immunotherapy for almost three years now for his peanut allergy. The family travels a couple of hours from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Virginia Beach to see a provider. Their insurance does not cover the treatment, and the appointments are intense, the first requiring an overnight visit.
Kristin told me her son is currently in the maintenance phase in which he can tolerate a small amount of peanut-containing foods, and he has to ingest them every day. He has not been able to build up to tolerating a half of a peanut butter sandwich. At this phase he can consume foods that have the warning “manufactured in a facility that uses peanuts.”
She said oral immunotherapy has given her the peace of mind that, if her son is exposed to peanuts, the reaction will likely not be deadly, and he does not have to sit at the allergy table at school. She was excited to hear about Palforzia and the standardization it would provide to oral immunotherapy.
If approved by the FDA, there is a possibility insurance companies would cover the cost of it. This option would be another positive for parents like Kristin who are currently paying out of pocket for oral immunotherapy.
Until oral immunotherapy, the only other options for those with food allergies were to:
a) avoid the food
b) inject epinephrine if the food is ingested.
Unfortunately these options aren’t always feasible or available. In recent years there have been instances where a child was accidentally exposed to a peanut-containing food at school, or the family could not afford to replace an expired or used
Epinephrine pen. Some school districts, schools or individual classrooms are designated as “peanut free,” but accidents and mistakes happen.
With a drug like Palforzia, the hope is that more children would have access and availability to oral immunotherapy. This treatment could reduce the stress associated with living with a food allergy and could allow children and parents to have a bit more normalcy in their daily lives. As Kristin stated, they chose oral immunotherapy for the peace of mind, and that is truly priceless.
Bio: Stephanie Hodges (MS, MPH, RDN) is the founder and owner of The Nourished Principles, a public health and nutrition consulting business. She currently works with clients to strengthen nutrition and wellness within school districts, implement strong public health nutrition programs and policies, and engage with consumers on nutrition, and public health topics. Connect with her on Facebook at The Nourished Principles, Twitter at @nourishedprinc, Instagram at @thenourishedprinciples, and LinkedIn at Stephanie Simms Hodges.
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