Just being in the same room as peanuts can send Liam Park into a violent allergy attack. And yet, the 4-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., intentionally eats peanut flour every day.
Liam is part of a potentially groundbreaking study at Duke Medical Centre aimed at finding out whether children with peanut allergies can be desensitised to peanuts and eventually cured of their ailment altogether. “Our goals in treatment are the desensitisation, to make them less sensitive and also to make their peanut allergy go away,” said Dr. Wesley Burks, Chief of Paediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke Medical Centre.The number of children under 5 with peanut allergies has doubled between 1997 and 2002, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit organisation devoted to educating the public about food allergies. The National Institute of Health says peanut allergies currently affect 0.6 percent of the population, and approximately 150 Americans die from food-induced anaphylaxis each year.Liam was diagnosed with a peanut allergy when he was 2, and it changed his family’s life.”It’s an emotional roller coaster,” said Jennifer Park, Liam’s mother. “It just felt like you had to change your whole lifestyle. I mean, we can’t eat in restaurants with him because [of] cross-contamination with the foods.”At preschool, Liam sits at a separate table where no peanut products are allowed. He survived a terrifying incident on a plane while flying home from Disneyland when passengers opened their bags of peanuts and nut dust circulated in the air. Liam had an almost immediate reaction.”He was starting to really swell and the sneezing just wasn’t stopping,” Jennifer Park said. “I mean there is a good chance he might not have made it off the plane if I didn’t have the Benadryl or if we were on a longer flight.”Park is hoping the Duke study will give her son a chance to lead a more normal life.As part of Burks’ study, Liam takes tiny, precise amounts of peanut flour every day, and that dose is increased every two weeks.(Source: Duke Medical Centre: June 2006).