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Treating allergies with allergens: St. Joseph’s Hospital program praised for changing lives

File photo.
File photo. Saul Loeb / Getty Images

A single peanut doesn’t sound like much, but for those suffering from allergies, it can be a constant source of anxiety.

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At St. Joseph’s Hospital, a new food allergy clinic is actually treating kids with non-life-threatening peanut allergies with peanuts in an approach called oral immunotherapy.

“Most of these kids, if they ate a peanut straight up they would have a reaction and sometimes those reactions can be severe and even life-threatening,” said Dr. Harold Kim, the medical director of the allergy and immunology program at the hospital.

“We’ve been de-sensitizing a number of patients with peanut. Over the year, it’s gone quite well. We’ve started about 20 kids. We had one teenager graduate with a full peanut per day and he’s doing quite well now.”

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At the clinic, patients start with 1/500 of a peanut in the form of peanut flour. If all goes well, the patient continues to eat that amount every day for a month before returning to the clinic to have an increased amount.

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Kathy Labrie’s son Colin, 12, is part of the program and can currently eat just over half a peanut a day. Speaking on The Craig Needles Show on AM980, she said her friends who have kids with peanut allergies think she’s crazy.

“His whole life he’s had that worry everywhere he goes, if someone offers him something, it’s like ‘what’s in this? [Are] there peanuts?’” she explained.

“I said ‘it takes the worry away for the rest of his life.’ He’s going on 13 years of age and I don’t have to worry so much about sleepovers and going here, because of this.”

Kim stressed that the oral immunotherapy is administered under very strict and careful supervision and the specialists take a very conservative approach.

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“We have seen in one good study showing that if kids, young kids even as young as three, are treated up to one peanut a day versus having more than one peanut a day it looks like the one peanut a day is as protective. So that’s why in our clinic we’ve taken the conservative approach.”

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Labrie added that her family commutes from Kitchener for the program and she believes it should be available to kids across Ontario.

Peanut allergies affect roughly one to two per cent of the population.