by Kelley Lindberg
"Your child is always playing near a precipice that is visible only to you: you may be able to keep her from falling off, but you can never move her away from the edge.” --Melanie Thernstrom, "The Allergy BusterA cure. That’s what we want. It’s what millions of kids (and millions more adults) need. Is there one tantalizingly close? It looks more and more like that answer could be “yes.”
Oral desensitization is one of the most promising treatments for food allergies being studied today. By introducing a carefully measured, incredibly tiny amount of the allergen every day, increasing it slightly at specific intervals over the course of several years, researchers are demonstrating that many of their patients are eventually able to tolerate the food allergen safely.
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The amounts must be carefully measured – not something you can do in your own kitchen with a blender and a measuring spoon. Many patients in these studies still have anaphylactic reactions to the dosage and must be treated with epinephrine shots, steroids, and antihistamines. The patients have to carefully control their activity level after taking the dose, because increased body heat can trigger reactions. Timing, commitment, control, and monitoring are essential so that the treatment doesn’t become the trigger for a life-threatening reaction.
And after several years of treatment, when the patient appears to be “cured,” the understanding now is that he or she will have to eat that allergen every single day to prevent the allergy from returning. For a nut, that could be a serving of 16 nuts every day. If it turns out you don’t actually enjoy the taste of that food, that could be a difficult life sentence to face.
But despite the downsides, oral desensitization is still the most exciting possibility for a cure on the horizon, and it’s one that many of us are anxiously awaiting. I desperately want my son to be able to go to college and leave his food allergies safely behind. So I was very encouraged to read this informative and thought-provoking article by Melanie Thernstrom on the New York Times Magazine website: “TheAllergy Buster: Can a Radical New Treatment Save Children With Severe FoodAllergies?”
Thernstrom talks about a trial her son in participating in that is going beyond the single-allergen desensitization method to multiple-allergy desensitization. The article is long, but well worth the time to read.
That light at the end of the tunnel may be getting closer after all.