It may seem like an insignificant thing, but a peanut butter cookie changed Grace Denney’s life forever. Just a small amount of peanut butter triggered an allergic reaction that left years of anxiety in its wake—and eventually lead Grace and her mother Richelle to Boston Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Program—which they credit with giving them their lives back.
A sudden onset
Growing up, Grace had always avoided peanuts. There was something about their smell that bothered the young girl so much that she went her first seven years without tasting a single nut or eating even a spoonful of peanut butter. But all that changed one day when she was at a baking event for a local youth ministry group.
Preparing goods for an upcoming bake sale, Grace was part of a team of girls making several types of treats, including a particularly delicious smelling batch of peanut butter and chocolate cookies. Thinking her tastes may have changed, Grace helped herself to one. Moments later her throat felt very dry and scratchy, making it difficult for her to breath, which scared both her and the adults supervising the event. When Richelle picked her daughter up that evening and heard what had happened, she suspected Grace might have had an allergic reaction and quickly made an appointment with an allergist. …
Pregnant women often avoid (or at least limit) some of the foods they’d normally like to eat because of the chance those menu items could hurt the health of their baby. In many cases it’s the right thing to do, but women who fear that eating peanuts during pregnancy could cause their child to one day develop a peanut allergy needn’t worry, according to a Boston Children’s Hospital study.
“Our study showed that increased peanut consumption by pregnant mothers who weren’t themselves nut-allergic was associated with lower risk of peanut allergy in their children,” says senior author Michael Young, MD, of Boston Children’s Allergy and Immunology Division. “Assuming she isn’t allergic to peanuts, there’s no reason for a pregnant woman to avoid peanuts.” The study was recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
With the great rise of food allergic children and life-threatening reactions in the 1990s, many doctors began advising women to avoid highly allergenic foods like peanuts, nuts and shellfish during pregnancy and while nursing. Pediatricians also advised parents not to give peanuts to any child younger than 3 years old. These recommendations were based on the hypothesis that exposing a young, immature immune system to highly allergenic foods increased the risk of sensitization and could lead to the development of allergy. …
Written by Joshua Feblowitz
One hundred years ago, a British scientist by the name of Leonard Noon attempted to treat hay fever by injecting patients with of small amounts of grass pollen. Inspired by successful vaccines for diseases like smallpox, Noon hoped to cure patients of their allergy by helping them build up an “active immunity” to the pollen.
In his laboratory at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, Noon carefully prepared “pollen extracts” to test his theory. To study patients’ reactions to pollen, he sprinkled the extract directly into their eyes – undoubtedly a very unpleasant experience, as anyone with seasonal allergies can imagine. Finally, he injected patients with the extract over several weeks in increasing amounts, successfully reducing their sensitivity to the pollen.
Noon’s 1911 study represents the first successful example of allergen immunotherapy, a treatment that involves gradually exposing an allergic person to an allergen to coax their immune system into tolerating the substance. Although Noon never uses the word “allergy” in his original paper – at the time the term was just 4 years old—his discovery marked the beginning of a new era for allergy research and treatment. Today, allergen immunotherapy continues to be employed by innovative researchers around the world, including right here at Children’s Hospital Boston. …