Chicago – Lauren Tilmont didn't believe it when her doctor said he had a treatment that might allow her to eat peanuts, despite a lifelong allergy.
"The first thing I told him was, 'You're crazy,' " said Tilmont, 25. She had been told nearly her whole life that peanuts could kill her. But she decided to give her doctor's plan a try.
He gave her a tiny bit of peanut protein and monitored her in his office for reactions. Gradually, he stepped up the amount she ate, over about 10 months. Today, peanut butter upsets her stomach, but she can snack on Snickers bars and munch on peanut M&Ms.
Tilmont called the treatment the most difficult thing she's ever done, but "it has empowered me," she said.
It's a somewhat controversial treatment that hasn't been widely available. But a similar approach may be about to go mainstream. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration expert panel recommended approval of the first drug designed to reduce allergic reactions in children with peanut allergies. The recommendation makes it likely that the drug, Palforzia, made by Aimmune Therapeutics, will get FDA approval. The FDA is expected to decide by January.
The drug is not meant as a cure. Rather, it's designed to decrease the amount and severity of allergic reactions after accidental exposure to peanuts. But many families dealing with peanut allergies said it could be life-changing, potentially freeing them from the worry that their kids could go into anaphylaxis or even die because of a simple mistake.
Doctors warn that reactions may still happen, including at home where it will be up to parents to take action.
"We are glad this is coming to the forefront, but it is not for all patients," said Dr. Paul Detjen, who treated Tilmont.
Palforzia delivers a daily dose of peanut protein that's increased over time, for children ages 4 to 17. After about a year of taking the drug, about two-thirds of children in a clinical trial were able to eat the equivalent of at least two peanuts without an allergic reaction, said a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.