CENTEREACH - Parents of children with serious food allergies know that it means constantly monitoring meals, having careful conversations at restaurants and living in a state of ingredient awareness.
About one in 13 children have a food allergy, and officials say about 200 children die each year from them.
Now, some could find hope in a treatment that involves carefully monitored exposure to the allergen with help from a professional.
Ambre DeVirgilio’s son Luke was diagnosed with a peanut allergy two years ago, when he broke out in hives after eating a snack. "I'm never comfortable leaving him alone," she says. "I'm in constant fear over his peanut allergy.”
Her son is now being treated with oral immunotherapy, also known as OIT, by an allergist in Centereach. Dr. Atul Shah is one of only two doctors in New York state using the treatment, which is not FDA-approved or endorsed by any major allergy association.
Shah says it's not a cure, but it’s a desensitization that comes with gradually increasing exposure to the allergen under close supervision.
The treatment involves giving the patient the food they're allergic to in tiny micro-doses that are gradually increased over several months. Dr. Shah says it could still take years before the patient can tolerate the food.
The OIT treatment is reserved for only those who have life-threatening allergies.
Dr. Shah stresses that parents should never attempt the therapy at home without a doctor because of the risk of a reaction.