The following is the first post in series on food allergies and their treatment at Children’s Hospital Boston. Written by Joshua Feblowitz, a research assistant at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and a freelance writer for Children’s, the series will chronicle Joshua’s severe food allergy history, his life-long treatment at Children’s and the outcome of an upcoming test which may prove he has finally out grown of one of his food allergies.
Growing up with food allergies can be a challenge. As a kid, I always needed to carry my EpiPen and wear my MedicAlert bracelet at all times; responsibilities which frustrated me and made me feel different. I took my own meals and snacks just about everywhere: barbeques, field trips, even summer camp. When we did go out I had to be exceptionally careful eating at restaurants, but as a shy kid I dreaded the drawn out conversations with wait staff, questioning them about every ingredient on the menu. While other kids were pouring through books on history, sports and adventure I became an expert in reading ingredient labels. My allergies to milk, eggs and nuts meant that danger lurked all around me.
Through it all my parents have been there for me, doing everything in their power to make me feel less different. I remember my first Halloween, where they handed out “Josh-safe” bags to all the kids in the neighborhood so I could enjoy the same treats as my friends. Or there were all those birthdays where they made special “wacky” cupcakes for my class: egg-free, milk-free, nut-free, but so good none of my classmates ever noticed a difference. Each year they wrote detailed instructions for teachers and camp counselors to help educate them about my allergies and spare me the embarrassment of having to do it myself.
For nearly as long as I’ve had these allergies and the challenges that go with them, I’ve been coming to Children’s Hospital Boston to see Lynda Schneider, MD, now the director of Children’s Allergy Program. If you’re a regular Thrive reader, you might have heard about her exciting new research that recently helped cure one boy of his severe milk allergy. Over the years, Dr. Schneider and Children’s Hospital have been with me through both good times and bad, including occasional emergency room visits or hospitalizations. Through everything, Dr. Schneider and the amazing staff at Children’s have helped me grow up healthy despite the daily challenges of severe food allergies.
I’m proud that I’ve never let my food allergies define me as a person. I think of them as an annoying aspect of my immune system, not the core of my personality. Still, in the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered if I might one day by free of them. As part of my care at Children’s, I’ve gotten regular blood tests, called RAST tests, to measure the levels of IgE in my blood and see if they have changed over time. IgE is a specific type of antibody that plays a role in food allergies. For most of my life, little changed, but then one day, a blood test showed that I might finally be growing out of my allergy to eggs.
According to Dr. Schneider the next step was to get a skin prick test, another method of testing for food and environmental allergies. In this test, a small drop of the allergen is placed on the skin to see if it will cause a reaction. Like my blood test, my skin test also came back negative for eggs.
Although these results were very exciting, I was also a bit apprehensive because I knew that they couldn’t tell anything for sure. I would have to undergo one last procedure. A “food challenge” is the final test to find out whether a patient has outgrown a food allergy. Next week, I’ll be coming to the Children’s Hospital Center for Ambulatory Treatment and Clinical Research (CAT/CR) for the challenge, where I’ll be eating eggs prepared by one of Children’s nutritionists. Little by little, I’ll try more over the course of the morning as doctors and nurses monitor me carefully to see if I have a reaction.
I admit that I’m a little scared about the test; not just because of the potential reaction, but the possibility that I haven’t overcome my allergies yet. Still, the treatment is worth the anxiety because if it all goes well I’ll be ready to embark on so many new culinary adventures, from omelets to scrambled eggs, mayonnaise to holiday eggnog, and saying goodbye to an allergy that’s controlled my diet for as long as I can remember.
Joshua’s test is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Stay tuned to Thrive to find out what happens, and learn more about food allergies and allergy testing at Children’s Hospital Boston.