Novel approach to treat food allergies in kids

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y., - The number of children with food allergies may be double what we've been told.

A study out today in the journal Pediatrics says one in twelve American children may have a food allergy, and more than 38 percent of those cases are severe. CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen reports on an unconventional treatment that's getting results.

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For ten-year-old Maya Konoff, every bite carries the threat of death. Her allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame seeds are so severe that she carries her medicines everywhere she goes.

"This is a dose of Benadryl, these are my two Epi pens," she says.

There's the constant worry we live with. Every minute of every day," says Maya's mother Jill Mindlin. "If she's out of my sight, I'm worried."

Maya is one of an estimated 6 million children up to the age of 18 with food allergies. Those estimates have doubled in five years. Why the dramatic increase?

"We're able to easily treat infections with antibiotics," says Dr. Scott Sicherer. "So we're living much cleaner and our immune system might be looking for a fight and end up attacking things it doesn't really need to attack."

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The good news is that researchers are making progress after discovering that the foods causing the allergies may be the key to curing the allergies.

Dr. Sicherer is testing this novel approach under strict medical supervision. Kids get a small dose of the foods they're allergic to, sometimes mixed in pudding, in the hopes the body will develop an immunity.

"Very tiny amounts to try to get the body used to it," Dr. Sicherer says.

Maya started by eating baked goods made with milk. She's come so far, she can now savor a childhood favorite: pizza made with cheese. And she's hopeful that someday she'll be able to eat whatever she wants, without fear.

"It would be amazing," she says.