When I first heard the term "food challenge," it sounded like a game to me. I like food and I am always up for a good challenge! I accidentally found out that I had food allergies when I was 5 years old. I went to my pediatrician for a routine checkup and as part of the bloodwork, my pediatrician decided to throw some foods in and check if I was allergic. I had no previous allergic reactions or reason to believe that I had food allergies, other than the fact that I had eczema as a kid and asthma as well. Eczema, asthma, and food allergies go hand in hand and if you have two of these, chances are higher that you have the third.
When the blood test came back with a level 5 (the highest level you can have) to walnuts, we were pretty surprised. Further testing showed that I was allergic to almost all tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame. But over time, a combination of bloodwork and skin testing showed that there were some foods that I may not actually be allergic to, and the doctor believed that I could tolerate a food challenge. This is when you are in a supervised setting in your doctor's office and you ingest very small amounts of the allergen over the course of a few hours, increasing the amount over time. You start off very slowly, and the medical team monitors you each step of the way, checking your pulse, heart rate, and asking if you have any symptoms at all. Over time, you consume more and more of your allergen, making the chance of an allergic reaction higher. If you have any symptoms at all, the food challenge is then stopped. A doctor would not suggest a food challenge unless they have pretty high confidence that you will be successful with it, but success is no guarantee. There is a team of doctors and nurses close by at all times monitoring and watching you and, quite frankly, it is very nerve wracking because there is no guarantee of how your body will react. When you are finished with the food challenge, you are then monitored in the allergy doctor's office for a few hours to make sure there is no allergic reaction. All in all, the food challenge is about a 4-6 hour process.
I have done a few food challenges and have been extremely nervous, sometimes to the point that I was not able to do them. But I am very happy that I did complete some and have been able to cross some allergens off my list. Once you successfully pass a food challenge, you must keep that food in your diet regularly, or you risk an allergic reaction in the future to that food. Note that food challenges should never be done at home and should always be done in a doctor's office with close supervision.
I am very happy that I have been able to successfully complete 4 challenges, and hope that I am eligible to do even more.