Saturday, September 7, 2013

Discovery Channel Documentary on Food Allergies

We canceled cable when our daughter was 3 months old, so I was VERY excited to see that the link to the Discovery Channel documentary, An Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America, was up earlier than expected!  I am overjoyed that this topic is finally getting coverage on such a platform, with such a far reach.  They only had 53 minutes to cover quite a lot of ground, but I was very pleased with the overall content.  For those of us who spend our days and nights researching food allergies, the information presented, and even the families, doctors, etc., will already be familiar to us, but remember that this documentary is for the general public, to raise awareness and educate those who do not live this allergic life.
(Edited to add: I'd rate it PG-13, depending on your child's temperament.  Though there are no stories of loss, they do candidly discuss the risks and realities of having a life-threatening condition.  There are also emotional accounts from some of the families.)
In case anyone's interested, here is the play-by-play, with some occasional commentary by yours truly. :)
00:20 - Right off the bat, we're presented with the staggering statistics - 15 million Americans have food allergies!
03:00 - The point is made that many people think of hayfever, sneezing and such when they think of the word "allergies", but when it comes to food allergies, it is, indeed, much more serious.
03:20 - Max's story is told, with re-enactments by his family.  There is one picture that might be a bit upsetting to younger viewers, of Max hooked up to the hospital equipment.  Other than that, I don't think the documentary was particularly "scary".  There are no stories from families who have lost children, as I believe they wanted to make the show one that could be watched by the entire family.  (Well, maybe not the little ones...I know my almost-5-year-old would find that one image a bit upsetting.)
10:54 - Dr. Kari Nadeau speaks of the constant fear food allergic families face - "They live in fear every day of the year"...
11:20 - Story of Mireille (seafood allergy) and her daughter Charlotte (peanut/tree nut allergies)...I think this helps illustrate the point that parents will not necessarily share the same food allergies, but children of food allergic parents (or parents with other allergic conditions) are at a greater risk of developing their own food allergies.
12:30 - I appreciate the part where Mireille speaks about being diagnosed 30 years ago - so many people say "we never had people with food allergies when I was a kid" and this is simply not just wasn't as prevalent.
12:41 - Dr. Ruchi Gupta notes that people can be allergic to ANY food, then lists the Top 8.
13:00 - There is a discussion of the prevailing theories about why food allergies have spiked...Hygiene Hypothesis, vaccines, antibiotic use in infancy, birth methods, but they note that nobody knows, yet, about the true cause(s).
14:00 - I like that they mention how people are often first seen by their primary care physician, but they need to see a board-certified allergist, for proper diagnosis.
15:25 - Mireille shares the story of how she gave her daughter peanut butter at age 3 and she suffered a reaction.
16:24 - Explanation of how doctors will ask questions to get a full history from the patient, then additional testing may be done.
17:00 - They discuss the process of skin testing and what IgE is...
17:46 - I am so glad they made the point, which I have been wanting to highlight, that because skin testing can cause anaphylactic reactions, it might not be safe for all patients.  I don't think this point has been made widely enough...
19:04 - FIRST line of treatment is epinephrine, then call 911.
19:37 - Teens at a higher risk for fatal reactions
19:45 - Talking to Andrew (who is also in this video from the former Food Allergy Initiative, that has now joined with FAAN, to become FARE) who is allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts/tree nuts.
20:15 - Andrew tells of how he was flying to a championship sporting event and told the airline 2 hours before boarding about his nut allergies...Sorry, but that is too little notice, in my book.  The airline should know as soon as the reservation is made, with reminders all along the way.
21:18 - Andrew had an anaphylactic reaction to formula
21:27 - Anne, Andrew's mother, tells of how Andrew would get welts if they kissed him on the cheek, even after just having milk in their coffee.  She noted that everyone's threshold is different, but for Andrew, just a touch was enough to cause a reaction.
21:43 - The effects of diagnosis...stages of grieving...then you learn to manage...
23:00 - Anne discusses that the management of her son's allergies was based on age-appropriateness and changed over time...I think this is an important point - very young children need more protections and precautions, in general, than older children.
23:58 - She discusses her fears and worries for when Andrew goes off to college...
24:45 - Doctors discuss the availability of epinephrine auto-injectors
25:03 - Dr. Nadeau explains that epinephrine is just adrenaline, which I think it a step towards demystifying epinephrine.  She also explains what it does to counter the effects of anaphylaxis.
25:30 - They note that biphasic reactions can occur, and that is why medical treatment is necessary, after the dose(s) of epinephrine.
26:20 - Andrew/Anne discuss how his friends were trained on how to use epinephrine...I didn't quite appreciate the "exploding orange" comment he made, since you don't have to be THAT forceful. :P
26:54 - Andrew discusses dating
28:33 - Erin, of Allergy Shmallergy, talks about her children, one of which has a soy allergy.  Though my daughter is not allergic to soy, I think it was great to point out that it is very hard to avoid soy in prepared food products.
31:35 - They discuss how one child's food allergy affects the people around them, and spreading awareness helps to keep these children safe.
32:00 - Statistic: 8 million children in the U.S. have food allergies.
32:30 - A school administrator notes that they are responsible for ensuring the safety of all students.
33:53 - The story of Danielle and her sister Lauren.  You may have read about the Rhode Island teen who got a law passed to have allergy awareness training for all RI restaurants.  There's also mention of how her sister is adding allergies to her list, over time, and not outgrowing them.
37:29 - This is a big point that we often repeat - past reactions are not predictive of the severity of future reactions.  Even though previous reactions may have been "mild", one must be prepared for the possibility that the next reaction will be severe.
37:52 - More details about Danielle passing the law, on behalf of her sister.
42:00 - They make the important point that there is, currently, NO CURE.  Treatments are being researched, but no definitive cure is available.
43:20 - They note that unlike in the past, milk and egg allergies are proving to be harder to outgrow.  They tend to persist much longer than they did, previously.
43:45 - They discuss Oral Immunotherapy (OIT)
45:15 - An important note is made that OIT is still an experimental treatment, and should only be done in a research setting, due to the risk of anaphylaxis.
48:00 - They share the story of a family who had success with OIT, but also note that if the maintenance dose is discontinued, the allergy can return.
48:30 - They mention SLIT and the skin patch. (Viaskin, though they do not mention it by name.)
48:50 - They also mention researching milk OIT with "an additional drug" (Xolair, I'm sure...)
48:57 - Alex's family discusses how completing the clinical trial opened up so many options.
50:00 - Summary about how people with food allergies must be vigilant at all times.  They are working on treatments and hope to, eventually, have a variety of treatment options available, since not all therapies will work for everyone.

Overall, I thought it was great!  I did wonder why there was no mention of the FAHF-2 treatment studies, which have been very promising, and treat multiple food allergies, simultaneously.  However, as I said, they only had 1 hour to cover so much material.  We all have a million things we want the general public to know about the subject and I think they did a wonderful job, in the time allotted.

Many thanks to FARE and Mylan for creating this documentary, and getting it in front of such a large audience.  Let's hope that this sparks some discussions, and helps to raise the level of awareness about a topic that is central to the lives of so many of us.  


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you very much, Henry! Sorry I missed your comment!

  2. Hi, Mireille & Charlotte here. Thank you Selena for sharing all the details from the documentary! We are so glad it has families talking and sharing. We wish you and your family good health ♥

    1. Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I'm sorry for the delay, as I only just now found this comment waiting for approval.

      Many thanks to you and your daughter for participating and helping to raise awareness. You two seem like an amazing mother-daughter duo! I also wish you both the best! <3

  3. Great running commentary on the documentary. I totally agree with your PG-13 rating! Even older teens may struggle with some of the emotions portrayed and I suggest parents preview it first. That said, I also agree that they did a great job in the time allotted.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Thank you! I agree that it really depends on the individual, as to how they will handle the emotions/issues discussed. It's tricky, because you need people to understand the serious, life-altering nature of the subject, without increasing their anxiety levels, or overwhelming anyone, but it is an overwhelming situation, when you get right down to it.

  5. I was sort of disappointed by the documentary. I was excited for a thoughtful discussion on children and food allergies, the state of science, treatment, diagnosis, management, etc. Instead I was bummed by the dramatic reenactments and I felt it gave parents who are wondering, struggling, etc. very few tools to work with.

    Also airing it on Saturday AM wasn't a productive time to help raise visibility.

    Maybe that was just me though...

    1. I don't think it's just you, as others have echoed that sentiment, but I believe we, in the food allergy community, were actually *not* the target audience for this show. Many of us are always saying that we really wish we could get the general topic in front of people who don't know very much about food allergies and I think this documentary served that purpose.

      I think that the time slot was based on affordability. It also had multiple airing dates, which give people a chance to DVR it, likely at the request of affected family members and friends. :)

      Documentaries on the Discovery Channel have to appeal to a wide audience and I don't think we could have really expected them to get into a detailed analysis of the subject, and especially not in a single hour. :O I think it would be awesome to have our own Allergy News Network, but it all comes back to funding (or lack thereof)...

      I agree that the re-enactments are hard on our hearts and nerves, because we truly understand the depth and range of emotions involved, but again, this video was for those who might not have any connection to food allergies, to give them a glimpse into what it's like. I noted that they didn't show any parents of children lost to food allergies, and I believe that was done to keep from overwhelming all viewers.

      This topic is so central to all of our lives that I think we forget that so many live their lives without a moment's thought about it (or are very dismissive about it), so I am just plain happy to see the topic covered, at all, on such a popular platform. :)