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Pediatric Immunologist Builds Relationships to Diagnose and Prevent Childhood Allergies

Kat Hendrix, Ph.D.
September 10, 2021
Emily Campbell, MD, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics who specializes in allergies and immunology at MUSC Children’s Health.

Emily Campbell, MD, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics who specializes in allergies and immunology at MUSC Children's Health is excited to be practicing medicine just as long-standing recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are changing. "For a long time, the recommendation was to avoid all allergenic foods – like peanuts, milk, and eggs – until children were at least one year old. But recently, a large study turned those guidelines completely around," says Campbell. "We now know that getting things like peanuts into children's diets at an early age actually helps prevent peanut allergy. Studies with milk and eggs are coming out too, and it looks like this general principal will apply to all of the top food allergens."

But changing years of the opposite advice is not an easy task. Campbell finds the most satisfying part of her job is getting to know her patients and their families and establishing a trusting relationship with them. "I really enjoy helping parents feel more comfortable about feeding their kids a wider range of foods," she says. "People can get so fixated and regimented about what their kids can eat – sometimes they make it more complicated than it needs to be. Now, I can reassure them that introducing these foods early can help prevent those allergies they're worried about." In fact, the new recommendations are a win-win, reducing new parents' stress and preventing children from developing food allergies.

Campbell comes to MUSC from a fellowship in allergy and immunology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to that, she completed her residency in pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

If there's a gene for enjoying talking to people and building community relationships, Campbell certainly inherited it. "My grandfather was an English teacher at Rocky River High School near Canton (Ohio), where I grew up. It's so great that people still recognize him on the street and say, 'Hi, Mr. Campbell!' My grandma was the principal of a nursery school there, so everyone in town knows them," says Campbell. But it was her mother who led her to medicine. "My mom is a pediatrician and her patients are always recognizing her in Target and when she's out running errands. She's such a part of the community. People she's known since they were born are now bringing their own kids in to see her. It's just so great seeing how much her patients love her! I can only hope my patients love me as much."

While her practice at MUSC is focused on eczema, severe asthma, and food allergies, Campbell will also continue research she began at Vanderbilt into a red meat allergy called, Alpha-gal. "It was only described about 10 years ago, so it's relatively new in medicine," says Campbell. "Unlike most food allergies, where symptoms start within 30 minutes of ingesting the allergenic food, this one is delayed for 2 to 6 hours. It's hard to diagnose because it's harder to connect eating a steak for dinner, for example, and waking up at midnight with vomiting and hives. Then, it took science a while to figure out that this sensitivity develops after a tick bite. I'm really interested in understanding why some people react this way." The condition is more prevalent in the southeastern US, and among people who spend a lot of time outdoors in the woods and fields hunting, farming, and hiking. Fortunately, many who contract Alpha-gal can eventually lose their sensitivity to red meat. "It's interesting," says Campbell. "You can out-grow it in time if you avoid ticks and are careful not to get bitten for few years and don't keep getting re-exposed."

Overall, it is the connection she feels with her patients that motivates her to come in to work every day. "When I said I was interested in med school, my mom warned me that it was really hard. And it was, but it was so worth it," says Campbell. "I just really enjoy what I do. I like seeing patients and talking with them about their concerns and what's going on so I can help them."

In addition to conducting research and seeing patients in her clinical practice, Campbell hopes to support the MUSC pediatric department of allergy and immunology expand participation in clinical trials and contribute to the possible development of a fellowship program.

Campbell is currently accepting new pediatric outpatients at the MUSC West Ashley Medical Pavilion and in Mount Pleasant at MUSC's Ben Sawyer Primary Care clinic. If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Campbell or refer a patient, please call 843-876-0444.