The Food Challenge: Controlling Allergies With Tiny Bites

Blake Ringstrom had a feeding tube for two years due to severe food allergies.

ByABC News
April 1, 2009, 4:55 PM

April 2, 2009— -- Five-year-old Blake Ringstrom's life has been an extraordinary and excruciating journey through a medical minefield.

Blake is allergic to so many foods that, until recently, he was fed only through a tube implanted in his stomach. Now, after undergoing an emerging medical technique, Blake can enjoy a normal, sit-down meal with his family.

For his mother, Becky Ringstrom, seeing her son eat normal food is "pretty overwhelming. We still like to sit here and watch him eat."

This enormous and welcome milestone was all made possible by an improved diagnosis method for food allergies in children, called the Food Challenge.

Thanks to this method, Blake was recently able to take his very first bites of real food in nearly two years. Using the Food Challenge, children who test positive to allergens, using blood and skin tests, are fed -- in a highly controlled setting -- incremental amounts of the very foods to which they appear to be allergic.

Even though an estimated 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, diagnosis and treatment can be all over the map.

The standard methods of blood and skin testing revealed that Blake's allergic reactions, first diagnosed when he was 6 months old, are dangerously off the charts. His intake of solid foods was restricted to pork and white navy beans.

"We felt like we were grasping at straws," said Blake's mother. "He wasn't getting better, he wasn't growing, he was still kind of sick all the time. ... The itching was constant. We had to put socks over his hands so he wouldn't make himself bleed."

The Ringstroms, who live in a small town in Minnesota, took Blake to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors decided a draconian move was the safest course: Take him off solid foods altogether. He was fed by a tube for two years.

"We just changed our mindset," Becky Ringstrom said. "We felt like this is helping him. ... This is his food; some people eat with a fork, but for him ... he eats with his tube."

But it was difficult for Blake to see other children eating normally.

"Birthdays are really hard," his mother said.

Get Your Questions Answered at the OnCall+ Allergy Center