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Health Spotlight: Fighting childhood allergies

Health Spotlight: Fighting childhood allergies

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Experts say more than 5.5 million children have a food allergy; that’s about 1 in 13 kids.

More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergies, but eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved oral treatment for older children with peanut allergies, but for children younger than 4, options were not available previously.

If you can strum it, pound it, build it, throw it, or swing on it, that’s where you’ll find 5-year-old Kaleb Billeter, without a care in the world. But, it wasn’t always like this.

“When Kaleb was 6 months old, he broke out into hives all over his chest, torso and face,” said his mother, Krysta Owings.

A skin test proved Kaleb was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.

“So, how do we, kind of, live our lives and not be fearful all the time?” Owings said.

Pediatric allergist Brian Vickery says, until now, very little could be done to help Kaleb and children with such allergies. “What we’ve been studying is to expose patients to small bits of what they’re allergic to, to change their immune responses, and what’s exciting is that you can actually do this through the skin.”

It’s called epicutaneous immunotherapy, or EPIT.

“Peanut proteins are coated on the underside of a small patch that’s about the size of a nickel or a quarter. Then, immune cells in the skin are actually able to pick up the allergenic protein and deliver it to the immune system to give it instructions on how to respond to peanut allergen,” Vickery said.

Children wear the patch for 30 minutes a day and then increase its use until it’s worn continuously.

Vickery said, “This is not a cure. This does not reverse the allergy and make it go away completely. It just lessens the sensitivity levels.”

Kaleb doesn’t need the patch anymore but does eat half a teaspoon of peanut butter a day. Now, he doesn’t have an allergic reaction while doing so.

Fun fact: According to Harvard Medical School, peanuts are not nuts; they’re legumes because they are seeds that grow into pods.

But, peanuts are not the only food allergy being studied using a patch. Mmilk and egg patches are also in clinical trials, and doctors believe this is just the beginning.

Patches could be used for multiple allergens in the coming years.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.