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Shelby County doctor one of few nationally to offer new peanut desensitization therapy

CHELSEA, Ala. (WIAT) -- A doctor in Shelby County has become one of the only allergists in the country to offer a new therapy, which she says can help people suffering from peanut allergies eat peanuts and live a normal life.

"I've loved every bit of my career for 30 years, managing allergy and asthma and allergy patients, but this is the most exciting therapy I've been involved with because of the dramatic life-changing effects for kids and their families," said Dr. Carolyn Comer of Alabama Asthma and Allergy in Chelsea.

Tuesday morning, Emily Houston and her nine-year-old son, Ryan, drove almost three hours to Chelsea, from Chattanooga, in hopes of getting rid of his life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts.

"It is worth it to come here, so that he can live a life that is free from the fear of dying over a peanut," Houston said. "It's not easy to go to the grocery, it's not easy to go out to dinner, it's not easy to do things that we just take for granted."

Houston said she learned her son was allergic when he was 15 months old, and at a peanut butter cracker at daycare.

"My face swells up, and I can't breathe good," Ryan said.

Ryan's treatment, which began Tuesday, exposes him to peanuts in a safe and supervised environment.

"(Treatment starts) with a very minute amount of peanut, and gradually increasing incremental doses every one to two weeks, until they reach eight peanuts a day as a maintenance dose," said Comer.  "It generally takes six to seven months."

Over the course of those six to seven months, the Houstons will have to travel to Chelsea each week, as Ryan's dosage increases.

In the early stages of treatment, patients receive a syringe full of solution containing peanuts, administered orally. When the patient completes those states, treatment will simply involve eating a peanut.

"When they get to eight peanuts a day, our goal is that at that time, they reach a bite-proof state," Comer said. "And what that bite proof state is, is that they have protection from the accidental ingestion of foods that have peanut in it."

According to Comer, studies show that patients are likely to lose their built-up tolerance to peanuts if they discontinue their "maintenance dose" of eight peanuts every day, indefinitely.

"A lot of the children that reach bite-proof state will be able to eat peanut in their diet," Comer said. "So they can have the half-Snickers bar, they can have that peanut butter ice cream and have as much as they want, as long as they continue their daily dosing of their peanut."

Ryan will have to miss a half day of school, every week, throughout the course of his treatment. His mother says that's a small price to pay.

"It's scary and exciting and wonderful," Houston said.

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