Just like any other young football fan, Landon had big dreams to work his way up from youth league to college to professional football. He had the skill and initiative to get where he wanted and was even granted a football scholarship to the college of his dreams. But all that shattered when Landon discovered that a past peanut allergy diagnosis would prevent him from taking the field and getting the education that was so important to him and his mother.
“When Landon was six years-old we decided to have him tested for peanut allergy… because of [our] family history,” Landon's mother, Patrice, said. When he was young, Landon was skin prick allergy tested, which only tests if someone is sensitized to a whole allergen, but this test fails to test for more specific components in the allergen. Unfortunately for Landon, the test results indicated that he was positive for peanut allergen sensitization. Being the incredible mom she is, Patrice made accommodating changes to Landon’s life and he was able to enjoy childhood like any other kid.
However, all this changed when it was time for Landon to go to college. His whole life, Landon was working towards gaining an athletic scholarship for playing football. And when his dream school, which is a U.S. military service academy, offered to accept him onto the team, Landon and his family were ecstatic. That is, until the offer was rescinded when the recruiter discovered that Landon was diagnosed having a peanut allergy.
Military service academies and food allergies
For most U.S. military personnel, having a risk of suffering food-related anaphylaxis is grounds for disqualification of military service.1 And because the U.S. military academy that offered Landon a scholarship abides by the same qualifications needed to enlist in the military, the recruiter had no choice but to rescind Landon’s scholarship due to his peanut allergy test results.
The family was devastated. “Landon was extremely distraught [and] extremely sad that his offer was rescinded,” Patrice explains. “He had worked so hard to get [the scholarship] and so to hear the recruiter say, ‘Unfortunately I have to rescind this offer...’ It was hard.”
But Landon and his family didn’t give up. Patrice decided that they needed to retest Landon to be certain that he was allergic to peanuts. Yet, this time, in addition to using a whole allergen test, the family’s healthcare provider decided to test Landon using a peanut allergen component blood test.
What is an allergen component blood test?
Unlike a whole allergen test, allergen component blood tests analyze the individual proteins found in allergens. Like puzzle pieces, allergen protein components come together to form the bigger, whole allergen protein. Sometimes, it’s possible to be sensitized to only one of these “puzzle pieces,” which is important to know because each component can be associated with different levels of severity.
When Landon’s allergen component test results came back, they indicated that he was sensitized to peanut allergen proteins that cross-react with the birch tree pollen allergen. Meaning, Landon may have never been clinically allergic to peanuts to begin with, like his positive skin prick test indicated, and instead was only sensitized to tree pollen; therefore, he might not be at risk of suffering from food allergy related anaphylaxis. These results were a shining light of hope for Landon and his family.
Reaching the end zone
The family’s healthcare provider decided that Landon was a good candidate for a food challenge, which is a procedure that takes place in a clinic where a patient is given gradually increasing amounts of a suspected food allergen (like peanuts, eggs, or milk) while the healthcare provider monitors closely for symptoms of an allergic reaction.
For Landon and his family, a lot laid on the line: his athletic future, his greater education, and even his emotional health when faced with this type of adversity. Patrice recounts that during his food challenge, “[Landon] ate a full tablespoon of peanut butter” and had no reaction, suggesting that he wasn't allergic to peanuts. “You could see he was relieved, he was happy, he was grateful, he was ready. It was the smile that Landon had all the time; I saw it back.”
Patrice contacted the military academy’s recruiter and sent the results of Landon’s peanut allergen component test as well as his food challenge for military clinicians to review. After some time, the recruiter called Landon with incredible news: “We have a spot for you.”
Now, Landon is an official U.S. college football player; however, had he never got retested using peanut allergen component testing, it’s uncertain what would have become of his athletic future.
The power of allergen component blood testing
Allergen component testing isn’t exclusive to peanut allergens and can be used to test for allergen proteins in tree nut, milk, egg, pet, and stinging insect venom allergens. Results of testing may indicate a variety of important information like whether someone may tolerate baked milk or eggs, if dog allergy symptoms are due to a male or female dog, and—as in Landon’s case with birch pollen— if there's cross-reactivity with other allergens.
Landon’s story proves how vital and life-changing it is to take charge of your health. Luckily, allergists aren't the only type of clinician that can order an allergen component blood test. In fact, healthcare providers from a variety of specialties, like pediatrics, internal medicine, and gastroenterology, all have the ability to order and test patients for allergen components. Because of this, allergen component testing is widely available for those who may have food or respiratory allergies.
If you think that allergen component testing is something that may help you with your allergy symptom management, have a conversation with your healthcare provider and get tested today.
Allergies may play a role in the game of life, but, like Landon and Patrice, if you search to understand their playbook, little may stop you from driving downfield, into the end zone, and celebrating a win for empowerment and health.