Going nuts: New therapy allows allergic city man to munch peanuts

Scott Molson eats M&M's to combat nut allergies

Cathy Dobson

Scott Molson says he is free of a lifelong peanut allergy thanks to a controversial treatment received at a U.S. clinic an hour’s drive from Sarnia.

The 44-year-old city man said he sought out oral immunotherapy in Ontario but couldn’t find an allergy specialist providing it.

Molson’s allergy had repeatedly sent him to the emergency ward after accidentally coming in contact with trace amounts of peanuts.

Now he can munch candy-coated peanuts by the bagful – with a big smile on his face.

“I don’t have to worry about what I eat anymore, about where I go to eat, or that I may end up in the hospital,” he said.

“I want to talk about what happened to me, because this is a life-changing process that should be available here.”

Molson had accepted his doctors’ advice that the only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid all foods with peanuts.

But two years ago his frustration boiled over and he began an intense search for help.

“I wanted to join the reserves and I had to meet certain physical requirements,” he said.

Three months into his training he was told the allergy disqualified him.

“I guess you could say I went through an emotional hell,” he said.

Local doctors had no solutions and an allergy specialist in London rebuffed him.

“I was told I was allergic to peanuts and there was nothing I could do about it.”

Meanwhile, he ended up in hospital twice more after mistakenly eating a peanut-traced granola bar and an ice cream parlour scooped out the wrong flavour.

At wit’s end, Molson eventually found the Allergy & Asthma Institute on the Internet and was amazed to learn it was short drive away in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

Institute patients receive tiny doses of allergy-triggering foods, which are slowly increased until a tolerance is built up.

About 2.5 million Canadians suffer from food allergies, or about 7.5 per cent of the population.

When Molson was first handed a paper cup containing a tiny concentration of peanut protein in grape juice, he was afraid to raise it to his lips.

“I was right out of my mind scared,” he said. “Knowing I was ingesting something that can kill me made me hugely anxious.

“I was worried my lips would swell up, my tongue would itch and I couldn’t breathe.”

When he showed no reaction the dose was increased slightly every 15 minutes.

“I left that first day with no reaction at all,” he said. “I went home and took the same dose every morning and night.”

He returned to the clinic once a week and each time the dosage increased.

“Some people will have a reaction or not feel well, but in my case I zipped right through it.”

Five months later, he took the institute’s peanut challenge, which required him to eat 48 chocolate covered peanuts. That was two months ago.

“I eat more peanuts today than anyone I know,” Molson said. “I love M&M’s. I bet I eat 80 a day, easily. I buy them by the bagful.”

The consultation and desensitizing process cost him $4,000 to $5,000 (US) and required a weekly trip to the clinic.

Dr. Chad Mayer, an allergy specialist who treated Molson at the institute, provided him with a letter that reads: “He will not have limitations concerning accidental exposure to peanuts.”

Molson intends to use that as ammunition when he reapplies to the reserves this fall.

Oral immunotherapy is controversial and still being studied in Canada and the United States.

Early research suggests a significant proportion of patients can be desensitized, at least for a short time, according to The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

However, it adds the safety and efficacy of oral immunotherapy remains under investigation.

A representative at the Allergy & Asthma Institute said of the 50 patients treated at the clinic for peanut allergies 26 are currently desensitized.