PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – It's a disease of the esophagus that if not treated can become a critical problem for children, left unable to swallow food because it causes the body to reject it.
11-year old Ashton Ulmer knows all about it.
He's also a foodie, but recently stopped eating nearly everything.
"It just hurt. I didn't want to eat."
His mother noticed changes right away.
"When he started pushing the plate away and started getting a little frustrated I knew something else was wrong," said Melissa Ulmer.
"It was more than just reflux, it was heartburn, belly pain."
Figuring out what's wrong when kids have stomach aches is difficult.
In Ashton's case, he was allergic to milk proteins.
Ashton has eosinophilic esophagitis, or EOE.
And milk triggers it.
Dr. Jonathan Spergel just completed a study on the disorder which causes the body's immune system to turn on itself and reject food.
"It actually hurts to eat," he explained.
Dr. Spergel's study focused on 20 children with EOE who wore an inch-long patch with milk protein on their backs.
The body's immune cells would recognize the milk and say 'Hey this is not a danger protein now. It's not something I'm supposed to react to'." -Dr. Jonathan Spergel
It was absorbed through the skin because traditional allergy shots or pills didn't work. And the idea behind the patch was to build up a tolerance to the danger food.
"So, we put the patches on their backs and changed the patches every day," said Dr. Spergel, a professor of pediatrics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
After nine months, the doctors reintroduced milk.
"Was the disease still there? For some patients it wasn't," Dr. Spergel remembered.
"Didn't work with all patients, but for some patients, they were now able to take milk, which they couldn't before, which is sort of wonderful!"
EOE can create intolerance to all foods and restrict the esophagus, so that swallowing food would be impossible, so doctors say early intervention is critical.
This was a phase two study but additional studies are needed to get FDA approval.
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