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The Peanut Allergy That Wasn't

(Biel's ® Gabriel Machado/flickr)
(Biel's ® Gabriel Machado/flickr)

Was this an actual misdiagnosis or did her son just "grow out" of the allergy? How many other kids are branded as allergic to peanuts or tree nuts (like my daughter) and go through their childhoods toting Epi-pens on every trip and to every classroom only to learn later that they're not allergic after all? And is the concept of "outgrowing allergies" masking what was never really an allergy in the first place? Obviously, real allergies are, indeed, real, potentially life-threatening and often extremely scary. But for those with seemingly milder cases (my daughter has never had another reaction to cashews after the first one at 18 months and for the past 6 years has eaten countless items processed "in a facility with" with all types of tree nuts) is there widespread misdiagnosing going on here? I'd love informed comments on this.

In the meantime, here's Amy's story posted on HealthCare Savvy:

My son was diagnosed at age one as having life threatening allergies to peanuts. He was given skin tests after what appeared to be a reaction to peanut butter. The tests showed he was allergic to everything. So, we spent the next 14 years religiously keeping him away from all nuts. Being an underutilizer, I never took my son back for further testing as given his history of asthma, it was unlikely he would outgrow this allergy. And, he never had another reaction.

This summer (at age 15) my son went on a canoeing trip in the adirondacks…..miles away from any medical facility. To my shock, it was here that He decided he had had enough of his “special diet” and gave himself a “food challenge” by eating two peanuts. What happened? Nothing.

When he proudly announced that he was no longer allergic to peanuts upon returning home, I was ready to murder him. How could he take such a risk? But, after calming down, I also wondered what had happened. Had he been misdiagnosed as a baby? Had he outgrown his allergy? Both his skin and blood tests provided evidence that he has this allergy, didn’t they? We made an appointment with a specialist, someone who could answer all our questions.

This appointment was really what I wanted to write about. Those who know me know that I am an underutilizer of health care services. So I was leery seeing this specialist. Would he want to run a zillion more tests? Would they want my son to undergo another food challenge? Well, not this allergist. He,like me, does not believe in “more is better” as most specialists in the Boston community do. I came with my son’s recent blood work and he said “great, no need to repeat those tests.” He also explained the limitation of those tests. He took a very long history and spent time explaining what he believed was a misdiagnosis of my son at age one.

Once he learned of my interest in health care costs, he spent another 20 minutes telling me why the system is so broken. He believes that a lot of the increase in the number of people diagnosed with food allergies is not due to a real increase but to the need to create more work for the specialists. How could this be? Did I purchase epi-pens and worry about my son accidentally ingesting a peanut all these years for nothing? We will never really know whether he outgrew the allergy or never had one. But for the thousands of new parents with children diagnosed with food allergies, I wonder if there isn’t something that can be done.

A dose of common sense is what is needed according to this specialist….and perhaps some tort reform. We are cautiously approaching all the foods my son has been avoiding for 14 years. Of course he was living fine without them, but not having to worry, and not having to supply every backpack with an epi-pen, will save me some gray hair and health care dollars.

This program aired on October 11, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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