AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents of children with peanut allergies are hyper-aware of the daily food landmines their children can encounter.
Childhood favorites, like peanut butter, are banned from their homes, school cafeterias can become a dangerous place and food labels are checked and double-checked.
But, one doctor says she’s seeing the number of Austin patients jump, as she’s helping kids build a tolerance to peanuts.
Dr. Patricia Gomez Dinger, based in San Antonio, started the program two years ago. She said her clients are starting to travel from as far away as Lubbock and as south as the Rio Grande Valley, for her peanut treatment program.
Gomez Dinger steps up their tolerance by giving them peanut protein in very small doses at first and over the six-month treatment, she ramps it up. After months of treatment, patients are able to take the 24-peanut challenge, by eating two dozen peanuts in one sitting, without any reactions.
Byrne Santos, 10, completed the program last year. Eating a chocolate cupcake, like the one his mother brings after school, would have caused a serious allergic reaction.
“I get hives around me,” Byrne said, who lives in Austin. “[I] started itching. It got really weird.”
Byrne had a severe peanut allergy. It was so strong, he had to eat at a separate table in the school cafeteria. Fear flooded his family’s daily routines and cross contamination was always a high risk.
His younger brother, Keane, never ate peanuts until Byrne completed the program.
“There were no granola bars,” said Byrne’s mother Katie Santos. “When we go to birthday parties, Byrne would have to bring his own separate cupcake that I would have to bake in our peanut-free environment.”
Then his parents heard about Dr. Gomez Dinger’s program and took him in. Since then, he has been in a maintenance phase which requires him to eat at least eight peanuts every day, to make sure his treatment continues to be effective.
“It is very exciting to hear that in the end about how much their lives have changed, and how many more experiences they get go have because they don’t have this threat,” said Gomez Dinger.
The allergist said all of her patients are children; and, there is a wait list to get into the program.
“Peanut to them is a foreign particle to their body. Their body doesn’t recognize it as food,” Gomez Dinger said. “And their bodies will automatically attack.”
That is when the body experiences allergic reactions, like shortness of breath, faintness and vomiting.
Her wait list continues to grow, with many patients driving from Austin. So far, all of the patients who have taken on the peanut challenge have passed.
“I’m the only one in San Antonio doing this protocol and the next nearest allergist is in Dallas,” Gomez Dinger said.
Byrne’s mom said some life-saving habits are hard to break. “It becomes a habit of looking at everything they eat. So, that still exists. And then I remember, we can eat that now,” Santos said.
Because the program is specialized for each patient, Gomez Dinger says some of them can get through it in less than six months; while others need at least 12 months to get into maintenance. She stressed that the program is only for patients who have a confirmed severe peanut allergy.
The allergist also said that her staff is looking into adding other food allergens, like eggs, milk and soy, to the program soon.