Kids fight food allergies one bite at a time

December 27, 2012, National Jewish Health

(Medical Xpress)—The holidays can be a stressful time for parents of the six million children in the United States with food allergies.  With so many parties and gifts involving food, parents may worry that their children will come into contact with the very allergens they are so vigilant about avoiding year round.  

But thanks to research at National Jewish Health in Denver, those fears may not need to last a .  Doctors here are testing an approach to treating food allergies, in which they actually expose children to the foods that usually make them sick.

"The basic premise to our approach, is that we're trying to gradually increase the amount of food patients can tolerate, until they no longer have to an allergic reaction," said David Fleischer, MD, a food allergy expert at National Jewish Health.  "Right now, there is no treatment for food allergies.  The only treatment is to avoid foods, but we are working to change that," he said.

First, patients here are put through a test that was developed at National Jewish Health, known as  a "" in which children are given small portions of certain foods.  "We start very slowly," said Dr. Fleischer, "only giving them a gram or two at a time.  In doing that, it not only allows us to pinpoint the foods they're allergic to, but it lets us know exactly how much they can tolerate before showing signs of a reaction," he said.

Armed with that knowledge, then send the children home with drops or powders containing proteins from the foods to which they reacted.  Then, dose by dose, day after day, children consume those proteins in an effort to retrain their , so they no longer react to the food.  "Eventually, some patients develop a for the very foods they've been avoiding for years," said Dr. Fleischer.

It's known as immunotherapy and early results of this approach are promising.  Dr. Fleischer and his colleagues in the of Food Allergy Research have published findings in the last year showing positive results with egg and peanut allergies. "We know it's a limited number of patients," said Dr. Fleischer, "but we've shown some success with this approach."

One of those who benefited from it, is 13-year old Alex Pritchard.  Around the age of one, Alex was diagnosed with severe food allergies.  "They tested him for all kinds of things, and he tested positive for all of them," said Alex's mother, Tammy.  "He was allergic to beef, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and milk," she said, "but most disheartening, is that he was allergic to eggs."

"Eggs are in everything," said Pritchard.  "From flu shots to meatballs, because you use egg as a binder when you cook and when you bake," she said.

Because of that, Alex spent the first few years of his life avoiding a variety of foods.  But when he went to National Jewish Health for treatment, eggs were one of the first items on the menu.

"Here's a boy who was egg allergic, and he's now able to eat as much eggs as he wants," said Dr. Fleischer.  "It took a while to get him to that point, but his life has completely changed, to the point where he doesn't have to worry about that allergen anymore," he said.

"It's unbelievable," said Pritchard.  "The first egg he ever had was at National Jewish Health.  Today, he eats plates full of eggs.  He loves them."

While the results are encouraging, Fleischer cautions that they are preliminary.  "We've only been doing this for a few years now," he said, "and we don't have a lot of patients who've gone through it.  We need a lot more patients, in larger clinical trials to really begin to make a difference with food allergies."

"Also, it's extremely important for patients and their to remember that, under no circumstances whatsoever, should they try this at home," said Dr. Fleischer. "We are dealing with food that can be very dangerous, so this should only be done by experts at a medical facility."

"We were glad Alex was tested in a controlled environment," said Pritchard.  "We felt confident and very safe."

Today, Alex is not only eating foods that contain egg, but he recently sat down to a plate full of scrambled eggs in his Denver area home, trying to contain a smile with each bite he took.  "Delicious," he said.

"I'm so glad we did this," said his mother, Tammy.  "Kids and adults are going to be exposed to allergens all the time, and if they can learn to tolerate them, that's what it's all about. I mean, you can't lock yourself away in a little bubble and refuse to enjoy life."

Explore further: New treatments may allow allergic people to safely eat eggs, peanuts and other foods

Related Stories

New treatments may allow allergic people to safely eat eggs, peanuts and other foods

October 24, 2012
New treatments are offering the prospect of eating without fear for the 15 million people in the United States with food allergies, according to the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News. C&EN is ...

An egg a day to keep allergies away

November 9, 2012
Avoiding sweet treats like pumpkin bread and cookies this holiday season might not be necessary for children with egg allergies. New studies presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual ...

Severe reactions to food more common than thought in young children (w/ Video)

June 25, 2012
Young children with allergies to milk and egg experience an unexpectedly high number of reactions to these and other foods, according to researchers at National Jewish Health. More than 70 percent of preschool children with ...

Children restricting diets based on incomplete allergy information

April 14, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Many children, especially those with eczema, are unnecessarily avoiding foods based on incomplete information about potential food allergies, according to researchers at National Jewish Health. The food avoidance ...

Recommended for you

Novel genomic tools provide new insight into human immune system

January 19, 2018
When the body is under attack from pathogens, the immune system marshals a diverse collection of immune cells to work together in a tightly orchestrated process and defend the host against the intruders. For many decades, ...

Genomics reveals key macrophages' involvement in systemic sclerosis

January 18, 2018
A new international study has made an important discovery about the key role of macrophages, a type of immune cell, in systemic sclerosis (SSc), a chronic autoimmune disease which currently has no cure.

First vaccine developed against grass pollen allergy

January 18, 2018
Around 400 million people worldwide suffer in some form or other from a grass pollen allergy (rhinitis), with the usual symptoms of runny nose, cough and severe breathing problems. In collaboration with the Viennese firm ...

Researchers discover key driver of atopic dermatitis

January 17, 2018
Severe eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is driven by an allergic reaction. In their latest study, researchers at La Jolla Institute reveal an important player that promotes ...

Who might benefit from immunotherapy? New study suggests possible marker

January 16, 2018
While immunotherapy has made a big impact on cancer treatment, the fact remains that only about a quarter of patients respond to these treatments.

Researchers identify new way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system

January 16, 2018
system, which enables these deadly skin cancers to grow and spread.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.