TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Child food allergies are a huge concern for many families.
Accidental exposure can make any meal dangerous or even deadly.
For people who are allergic to peanuts one speck of peanut dust, about the size of a grain of sand, could be life-threatening.
But what if the thing that makes the child sick is the thing that could make him well ... forever?
A Tucson family says that's exactly what happened.
Jonathan Austin is now able to happily eat peanuts, which he described as "deliciousness at its core."
It's hard to believe that less than a year ago, this was so dangerous it could have killed him.
"You feel like a bouncy ball is stuck in the middle of your throat, like one of those tennis balls, and just clogging up your throat, making it so it was hard to breathe," Jonathan said about his allergic reaction.
When you are allergic to peanuts it's not unusual to spend time in the doctor's office or even to end up in the hospital.
It's not unusual for a mom to worry when her child plays with friends or goes to school where peanuts are in lunches or on hands.
That was Marcia Austin's life.
"That fear is gripping and it's paralyzing," Austin said.
Her family's life sometimes centered around her son's condition.
It meant Jonathan couldn't always do the things and go the places his friends could.
"I did very much feel left out," Jonathan said.
However, that's all behind them now because Jonathan underwent Oral Immune Therapy.
"It's a very, very slow and controlled process where children are exposed to tiny, tiny bits of the peanut protein which allow them to build up tolerance to it," said Dr. Michael Daines, Banner-Diamond Children's Pediatric Allergist. He's also a University of Arizona professor of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.
"It needs to be very closely supervised. This isn't something you'd want to do on your own," Daines said.
Daines is not Jonathan's doctor, but the University of Arizona is studying peanut desensitization.
The goal is to get Food and Drug Administration approval of the process.
"Right now I'd probably recommend that most people, if they're going to do this, do it in the context of a clinical trial," Daines said.
Jonathan is now on maintenance.
He has to eat a minimum of 7.6 grams of peanuts, or the equivalent, every day for the next three years, and possibly for the rest of his life.
His mother says it's a small price to pay.
"To be able to live fully and freely, for him and for us, to see him live a full life without that burden and without that fear," Marcia Austin said.
For Jonathan it's simple.
"I'm free," he said. "It's the freedom, not only for me, but for my parents as well."
Daines expects FDA approval of Oral Immune Therapy for peanuts to come within the next couple of years.
He said scientists also are working on a patch that would be placed on the skin to desensitize people to peanuts.
Daines said the University of Arizona will be involved in that study as well.
He said the next phase at the UA will be to work on desensitizing people to milk, eggs and tree nuts.