After many years managing multiple food allergies, Thomas first came to Latitude Food Allergy Care’s Redwood City office as a teen for updated testing of his allergies to milk, tree nuts, seafood and shellfish. His testing at Latitude included an oral food challenge to milk. After that challenge was unsuccessful — confirming that he had not naturally outgrown his milk allergy — he began treatment with oral immunotherapy (OIT) for milk. Now a few months into that treatment, he shares his journey in this interview with us:
What are your earliest memories of having food allergies?
My earliest food allergy memory was when I was around five years old. I was in Hawaii with my parents and grandparents, and on the day we were leaving for the airport I had a severe allergic reaction. As it turned out, I was accidentally given milk yogurt instead of coconut yogurt. I remember feeling that my hair was super itchy and I just wanted everything I was feeling to stop — wanting to vomit, stomach pains, swollen lips, hives all over, and my throat closing. My dad had to use the EpiPen on me for the first time, and I was startled by how it felt in my thigh. But I was thankfully ok.
Your family tried different approaches to treat your food allergies before coming to Latitude. What are your recollections of those approaches?
When I was in fifth grade, I participated in an experimental peanut patch clinical trial. At that time, peanuts were my worst allergen and I avoided having any contact with them. I even held my breath when I was around them. I was in the peanut patch trial at Stanford for three years — until eighth grade. Each peanut patch had a small amount of peanut powder on it and every night someone had to reapply a patch to my back. The trial included annual peanut challenges in the hospital — those were tough. I had to eat a pudding cup with peanut powder mixed into it until I had a reaction, and then I was given an EpiPen and had to sit in the hospital for up to eight hours on IV fluids until I was given the green light to go home. Those were very long days.
At the end of the three-year peanut patch trial, I was able to safely eat one peanut without reaction and I continue to maintain that desensitization by eating one peanut a day. After I completed the clinical trial, I went back to my childhood allergist to address my other food allergies. I had several oral food challenges to the other foods that I’m allergic to — the biggest one for that stage of my journey was egg. I passed an oral food challenge to full eggs, which meant I had outgrown my allergy altogether and no longer needed to avoid it. My dad and I now eat sunny-side-up eggs together and I have also discovered that eggs are a great source of protein —great because I play football and like to workout!
I am now a patient at Latitude and my experience here has been even better. I am now doing OIT for milk, and I come in every two weeks to receive an updose. There are no challenge days like I had to do for the clinical trial, when I only seemed to progress yearly. And at my other allergist, I felt like I had almost daily appointments just to figure out what I was actually allergic to. My every-other-week appointments at Latitude give me enough time for my body to get used to a greater amount of milk. And I already feel more empowered with the progress I’ve made — checking off steps in the process as I go along the way.
You began your food allergy journey as a young child. Now that you are in high school, and have made significant progress with your food allergies, what has changed in your life?
Up until high school, I was always very cautious around food related activities. I was afraid that even if I touched the food I was allergic to, I would get a reaction. I did not want that to happen again. I would always stay off to the side whenever people were eating food, and I always brought my own food wherever I went.
Now, I feel more confident. I know that I’m not allergic to some foods because of the testing and oral food challenges. And because of my desensitization, I am less nervous around those foods that I am allergic to. I want to try new foods, I am okay being around food that I’m allergic to now, and I am more comfortable with eating out and trying new restaurants. There are probably new foods that I’ll be excited to try when I complete my milk OIT, but I actually don’t even know what those all are yet!
How do you think your food allergies will impact the next stages of your life?
I am admittedly worried about college. I’m going to have to find safe foods wherever I go, and I am always going to have to have my Auvi-Q on me and may have to use it on myself — if ever needed. Food allergies will always be a part of me — I know I will have to live with them for the rest of my life but I thankfully am less worried than I used to be. One thing I am looking forward to however is my progress with the desensitization that will hopefully make things better.
When you meet another teen or young adult who is dealing with food allergies, what advice would you give them?
- Always bring your Auvi-Q or EpiPen with you everywhere you go
- Always make sure to check with the waiters or waitress when visiting a restaurant
- Always check the ingredient labels on the back of food packages.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. Being able to be desensitized to allergies is a freedom and being able to go out to eat with friends without being super worried about everything is amazing. Having the opportunity to become desensitized is a privilege and is a great experience for anyone willing to try.
Thank you so much for sharing your powerful story, Thomas! There are nearly 32 million people with food allergies in the U.S. When we share our food allergy stories with friends, family, coworkers, educators, and other people in our communities, we can be a powerful force for change.