Alisa Fleming – Advances in immunotherapy may lead to potential treatment of severe food allergies.
Desensitization, or immunotherapy, for allergies is nothing new. Allergists have been using shots to lessen environmental allergens for decades. The process involves exposing the patient to increasing amounts of the allergen(s) (beginning with a very, very minute amount) over time, until their immune system “desensitizes,” or stops launching an all-out attack whenever the allergen approaches. How long the desensitization process takes varies by individual. I’ve met many people who’ve had to do the injections for four or five years, and of course, some who the process didn’t work for. Nonetheless, some proclaim it as a miracle for their environmental allergens.
In recent years, researchers have begun programs to test the efficacy of this treatment on those with food allergies. It has been a delicate area, as those who are best suited to the treatment have severe or life-threatening food allergies, and the threat of a dangerous reaction during the process of desensitization is very real. Also, taking their child in for frequent injections over the course of several years doesn’t hold strong appeal for many food allergy moms, so researchers have been working on the delivery methods.
In recent years, oral and sublingual immunotherapies have been a hot research topic. The oral procedure involves doses of powdered milk given with food, while the sublingual is a liquid extract held under the tongue. A study that spanned 18 months showed a fairly good “success” rate. But researchers caution that this treatment is not yet ready for the doctor’s office setting, doesn’t work for all milk allergic patients, and should definitely not be trialed at home.
As another option, a team of pediatric researchers at the Saint-Vincent de Paul hospital in Paris began testing a patch-based immunotherapy. The allergy patch works by releasing minute doses of the allergen through the skin. The process is still a form of desensitization to the allergen, but it involves dosing overtime through the skin, rather than orally, and with what the researchers feel is a less-invasive process than the allergy shots. However, like the shots, the treatment does take time. They say that the patch should be worn for several years, but since it doesn’t have direct contact with the blood stream, there is less likelihood for a severe reaction.
The French researchers who are working on this patch technology say that the human trials for their milk allergy patch have been completed and they expect the product to be available in Europe and the United States in approximately three to four years. They are beginning clinical trials on a comparable peanut allergy patch.
Article by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org, blogger at Alisa Cooks, and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a freelance writer for several publications, with an emphasis on creating recipes for various types of special diets.