Scared to eat? How one therapy is helping some kids with food allergies

When it comes to the most dangerous allergies – nut allergies top the list.

Researchers have found that over 2% of all children are allergic to nuts, and many will have that allergy through their adult years. 

For some, the fear of having an allergic reaction, can also lead to a fear of eating -- whether it be at a restaurant or enjoying a snack at a friend's house. However, research and therapies – oral immunotherapy being one -- are helping kids deal with that fear.

Eleven-year-old Ayla Scheid was a toddler when her parents realized she had a nut allergy. Ayla said she often feared going out to eat because she did not know if she'd have an allergic reaction to something.

Ayla's mom, Avani, said that fear changed the way their family lived their lives.

"We would read every single label of any food coming into the house to make sure it was going to be safe for her," she said.

Determined to find a better way, Avani did some research and found a local doctor and allergy clinic – Dr. Stacy Silvers at Aspire Allergy and Sinus – who offered oral immunotherapy, a program that exposes people to their food allergy in small doses to build the body's immunity overtime.

For patients with nuts allergies, like Ayla, people eat a very small amount in the beginning and slowly work their way to large quantities to build the body's immunity to that allergy.

"It's very regimented. It isn't something we want you to do at home because you need to be under the guidance of an allergist because there can be reactions so we want to do it in a safe manner," Dr. SIlvers said.

He said between 85% and 90% of his patients have succeeded in overcoming their food allergy, but it is a time commitment that required weekly visits to the doctor – and treatment can take several months.

It's also a lifelong practice, he said.

"It's important to know this is not a cure, this is a treatment and you have to have continued exposure. There's a chance if you stop dosing that the allergy will come back," he said.

Ayla said the hardest part was the beginning. 

"At first I was terrified, but I've gotten more and more used to it. It's not something to be scared of because the doctors are here for you," she said.

For her mom, the treatment has brought piece of mind knowing that her daughter will no longer have a fear of food.

"She can enjoy these foods now. She can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which she avoided her whole life. She can eat a Reese's cup when she gets it for Halloween, you know. It's fun and it's exciting and it's a huge sense of relief for us," she said.

It took a full year of treatments for Ayla to graduate from the program. Dr. Silvers said he's treated patients with milk or egg allergies, too.