Newsday.com reports on a new food allergy treatment, similar to allergy shots, in which food-allergic children are given very small amounts of an allergenic food everyday in order to build up a tolerance.
Don't try this experiment on your own, warns lead researcher Dr. A. Wesley Burks of Duke University Medical Center. Children in the study are closely monitored for the real risk of life-threatening reactions.
‘I really think in five years there's going to be a treatment available for kids with food allergy,’ Burks says.
Here's how it worked: First, youngsters spent a day at the Duke hospital swallowing minuscule but increasing doses of either an egg powder or a defatted peanut flour, depending on their allergy. They started at 1/3,000 of a peanut or about 1/1,000 of an egg, increasing the amount until the child broke out in hives or had some other reaction.
Then the children were sent home with a daily dose just under that reactive amount. Every two weeks, the kids returned for a small dose increase until they reached the equivalent of a tenth of an egg or one peanut – a maintenance dose that they swallowed daily.
After two years, four of the seven youngsters in the egg pilot study could eat two scrambled eggs with no problem, and two more ate about as much before symptoms began, researchers report in the January edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
‘We thought it would make some difference. We're surprised about the amount of difference it made,’ Burks says. ‘From one peanut to 15 peanuts is basically a huge difference.’
Millions of Americans suffer some degree of food allergy, including 1.5 million with peanut allergy, considered the most dangerous type. Even a whiff of the legume is enough to trigger a reaction in some patients.
Moreover, food allergies appear to be on the rise. Peanut allergy in particular is thought to have doubled among young children over the past decade, prompting schools to set up peanut-free cafeteria zones or ban peanut-containing products. See Managing Food Allergies in Children for more information about keeping food-allergic children safe.