Food allergy is a significant problem that affects an estimated 32 million people in the U.S. including 5.6 million children. But recent developments in the search for a cure, or at least for treatment options that reduce the risk of a severe reaction, have given hope to families that struggle with this life-threatening condition.
For patients who have an immunological mechanism triggered by IgE antibodies to a food protein, the problem can be potentially life-threatening. Once re-exposed to the offending food, such as accidental ingestion, the resulting response could be full-blown anaphylaxis, a rapidly developing, severe allergic reaction that can be fatal. It is recommended that all patients at risk for anaphylaxis have an epinephrine auto-injector available since that is the only recommended medicine for anaphylactic shock. Currently, there is no cure or approved treatment for food allergy except strict avoidance of the food allergen. However, there has been significant progress in clinical research to help develop a treatment for patients with food allergies.
An Established Therapy with a New Use
Allergen immunotherapy has been used for over 100 years in patients with allergic sensitivities to airborne allergens like pollens, dust, and animal dander to treat their allergic respiratory symptoms. Allergen immunotherapy works by exposing the patient to very small doses of an allergen to develop a tolerance so when the patient is re-exposed, they're able to "tolerate" the exposure with reduced symptoms. We achieve this for patients with respiratory allergies through subcutaneous immunotherapy, allergy shots, or sublingual immunotherapy, allergy drops or tablets. Immunotherapy is also being investigated for treatment of food allergies as well, with the allergen administered either by oral, sublingual, or cutaneous routes.
Clinical Trials Advance Treatment Options
Oral immunotherapy is a procedure where the patient takes very small doses of the food allergen over several months in an effort to build up a tolerance so that they're less sensitive when orally challenged with the food allergen. Atlanta Allergy & Asthma’s Research Department has been participating in a large research study investigating a potential new therapy for oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy patients. The preliminary results indicate that the treatment has been effective in children with two-thirds receiving the treatment able to tolerate oral ingestion of the equivalent of two peanut kernels. Although very effective, this treatment did have significant side effects with 14% requiring epinephrine for adverse reactions during therapy.
Epicutaneous immunotherapy also induces tolerance using a small patch that is coated with peanut protein that the patient wears daily. At Atlanta Allergy & Asthma, we've also been participating in this clinical research project. The preliminary results do show some promise with 35% of the treatment group responding to the "peanut patch" treatment after a yearlong trial.
Sublingual immunotherapy has also been studied for certain food allergies in academic centers and does show some potential benefit, but at this time there are no specific products for sublingual immunotherapy for food allergies.
These recent developments in research for therapies for food allergies provide hope for patients, and their families, with this life-altering condition. At Atlanta Allergy & Asthma we are excited to be participating in several of these clinical trials that we are hopeful will result in an FDA approved product for our patients with food allergies…in the near future.
If you are interested in participating in one of our clinical research trials, check our website for current trials and qualifications. You do not need to be a patient of Atlanta Allergy & Asthma to participate in a trial.
See a detailed report from FARE on the current state of food allergy therapies.