Last week, The Journal News, a newspaper in White Plains, NY ran an interesting story about a little girl who “can not eat food.” Three-year-old Hannah Devane has a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). It’s a very serious condition and many people don’t realize that food allergy is actually the principle cause of EE.
The story focused on the Devane family’s difficulty getting their insurance company to pay for the amino acid-based formula Hannah needs – which is really a shame. But discussion on the Journal News message board and on The Consumerist blog also showed me that there is a lot of confusion about EE. So, I thought I’d clear a few things up here.
• Kids with EE are allergic to the protein in foods such as milk, soy, nuts, eggs, etc. so the condition really limits their food choices. • This allergy causes a build-up of white blood cells (eosinophils) in the esophagus which is a sign of inflammation. This inflammation causes difficulty swallowing, vomiting, regurgitation, and/or abdominal or chest pain. (The symptoms usually differ slightly for each kid.) • Usually, EE kids can only have a very few “safe foods.” For Hannah Devone, it is rice and pears. • Rice and pears alone cannot provide adequate nutrition for a 3-year-old. • So, kids with EE rely on special amino acid-based medical foods (that won’t make them sick) to get the nutrition they need. • Medical foods are not like vitamins or supplements you buy at a health food store. They have a special FDA designation, are deemed “medically necessary” for people with certain conditions, and families must have a recommendation from a healthcare professional to order them from the pharmacy or manufacturer. • Some doctors do prescribe steroids for the EE symptoms so they can eat food, but steroids have not been shown to be as effective as amino acid-based medical foods and they can cause a lot of side effects. • For more information, check out Act Against Allergy.