Elizabeth White nibbled a peanut butter cracker when she was 14 months old that left her gasping for breath.
Just one- fifth of a peanut is enough to trigger an allergic reaction in people allergic to it.
Her parents enrolled Elizabeth, at 4 1/2, in a landmark experiment that set to discover-'Could eating tiny amounts of the very foods that endanger them eventually train children's bodies to overcome severe food allergies?'
Preliminary results suggest that it just may work. The study included a handful of youngsters allergic to peanuts or eggs. After two years of treatment they acquired a little immunity that gave them protection enough to an accidental bite of the food they were allergic to.
'We're so lucky,' says Carrie White, Elizabeth's mother.
Now at the age of seven, Elizabeth shows tolerance to the equivalent of 7 peanuts. The parents now allow the girl to go out to play and to birthday parties without them. 'Our whole worry level is really gone.'
This experiment should not be tried on your own, warns lead researcher Dr. A. Wesley Burks of Duke University Medical Center. Children involved in the study are closely watched for the real risk of critical reactions.
Severe food allergies are known to trigger 30,000 emergency-room visits and kill at least 150 people a year.
'I really think in five years there's going to be a treatment available for kids with food allergy,' says Burks.
Peanut allergy is considered the most dangerous type and 1.5 million are affected by it. Even a sniff at aroma of the legume is enough to set off a reaction in some patients.
It has been believed that there's only one way to avoid a reaction and that is avoiding the food and the new research aims to change this belief.
'We thought it would make some difference. We're surprised about the amount of difference it made,' says Burks. 'From one peanut to 15 peanuts is basically a huge difference.'