• Zerrin Dulger

My Food Challenge Experience at Mt. Sinai

Throughout my life the ability to “grow out of an allergy” seemed like a dream. There was nothing I wanted more in the world. Literally anytime someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday I would think in my head ‘no allergies’. Tree Nut allergies are harder to grow out than other allergies, but about 20-25% of those with Peanut Allergies outgrow them by age 8. Even though I had always been told that I would never grow out of my allergies, there was always a sliver of hope. A simple reality check would show that my numbers were too high and would result in an expected anaphylactic reaction, so as the years went by I had settled on the idea that I would never lose any of my allergies. I was obviously disappointed, but it was something that I had to accept.

When I started seeing Dr. Sicherer at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute in Mt. Sinai, things took a turn for the better. At Mt. Sinai they observed the results of my blood work in conjunction with my skin test results. After taking a look at some of my tests, Dr. Sicherer believed that certain foods that I had been avoiding I could possibly tolerate. This meant that I was a candidate to do a Food Challenge.

A Food Challenge is a medical procedure where a food is eaten slowly in gradual amounts, underneath medical supervision, to accurately diagnose or rule out a true food allergy. Many people test positive to foods that they are actually not allergic to anymore. The purpose behind taking an oral food challenge is to find out if you are truly allergic to something. When I was officially a candidate I was given a list of supposed allergens that I could possibly have.

I remember being so excited when I first heard the list of foods that I could do for a Food Challenge. If I could take away some of my listed allergens it meant less worrying and more foods that I could add to my diet. However, as I thought about the process more I became nervous. What if I had a reaction? What if I went into anaphylaxis? Would I even be able to have the courage to eat something that I had thought for so long would kill me? I had just turned 12 before my first Food Challenge and I remember being scared out of my mind for the months leading up to it.

My mom was initially fearful of doing a food challenge as well, however knowing that it would be done in a Hospital setting made her more inclined to commit to it. If something were to ever go wrong she knew that I was in safe hands. Even though I was still uneasy about the whole idea, her confidence in it made me want to continue to move forward.

My first ever food challenge was sesame. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything before my Food Challenge so I remember being hungry and scared. Even though I knew sesame was not a major allergen of mine, the idea of actually eating it scared me. Before I knew it I was in a room with a spoon of tahini in front of me. After doing my Food Challenge I realized it really was not scary at all.

A very happy younger me after a successful food challenge!

During my Food Challenge I would be given small increments of tahini every fifteen minutes. During that time increment the dosage of the allergen would double until I was given one complete serving size. This process took a few hours, during which I was constantly monitored. I was being routinely checked for any kind of reaction.

Since then I have done two more food challenges, one for Almonds which I passed, and one for Chickpeas which I did not. No matter the outcome of these Food Challenges they were all great experiences.

The staff at Mt. Sinai is absolutely incredible. The nurses are amazing at making you feel comfortable and safe. Fear was a large obstacle for me initially and having them there through the process was a big help. It was hard to want to eat foods I was supposedly allergic to, especially when I had been told to avoid them for my whole life. The fear didn’t go away until I had actually done the Food Challenge and realized how safe it actually was.

Due to these two minor changes in my diet I am now able to eat so many more things. I can drink almond milk, bake with almond flour, have sesame spreads, and even eat safely at Bagel Shops! I have officially found my love for Everything Bagel Seasoning 😊.

For everyone who is a candidate for doing a Food Challenge and still unsure about the process I say go for it. It is not only an amazing experience, but it can come with great rewards.


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