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by Grace Peace Yu, M.D.
A study published this fall in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that patients allergic to eggs can be desensitized by eating small and gradually increasing daily doses.
This study is particularly relevant for parents with children living with food allergies and sensitivities.
The results are groundbreaking because they show that there are effective ways to change how children with food allergies are treated. There are benefits to raising the threshold of tolerance for children who are allergic to eggs. The findings may lead to ways to reduce life-threatening reactions if there is accidental ingestion of egg.
No, at least not yet. What is exciting about this recent study is that it shows that there may be a path to desensitizing children who have food allergies.
Similar to allergy shots for pollens, the concept is to give the allergic child a small amount of the food they are allergic to, in order to desensitize them. There is, however, a difference in how the body assimilates an injection (like an allergy shot) versus ingestion (eating).
This is breakthrough work for people living with food allergies. Unfortunately, the results of this study are not ready for prime time in the community. Doctors do not recommend that people try to recreate the results at home.
The clinical research is rigorous and involves controlled doses at a level of precision that cannot be replicated at home. Eventually, a modified version may be available beyond clinical research trials. For more information about current clinical trials, go online to www.clinicaltrials.gov and search for “food allergies.”
This study focused on egg allergy, but the concept is being looked at for milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and other foods that commonly cause allergic reactions.
The best thing one can do to prevent allergic reactions is strict avoidance. Because there is a risk of accidental ingestion, carrying an EpiPen Twin Pak (a portable device with two doses of epinephrine) and an antihistamine like Zyrtec or Benadryl with you at all times is the safest thing to do.
There is certainly a genetic component to food allergies. In identical twins, if one is allergic to peanut, the other twin has a 67 percent chance of also being allergic. In siblings, if one sibling is allergic to peanut, the other sibling has a seven percent risk.
That depends upon the food and the individual child. It’s more likely for egg, milk, soy or wheat allergy. If your child has a peanut, tree nut, fish or shellfish allergy, he or she is less likely to outgrow these.
The evidence is not clear that delaying the introduction of certain foods will decrease the odds for developing food allergies. Research is currently being done to determine whether early introduction of peanuts into a child’s diet affects the development of food allergies. No results have yet been published, but when they become available they will be widely shared.
Grace Peace Yu, M.D. M.Sc., is a board-certified allergist immunologist with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Fremont and Dublin Centers and Adjunct Clinical Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.
The Food Allergy & Anaphylactic Network: www.foodallergy.org
The Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board: www.allergySF.org
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