March 1, 2010 (New Orleans) -- An experimental treatment in which children with food allergies are fed tiny amounts of the very food to which they're allergic is allowing some kids with peanut allergies to enjoy peanut butter and some with egg allergies to eat scrambled eggs.
Three new studies suggest that the strategy, known as oral immunotherapy, can help kids build up tolerance to foods to which they are allergic.
Still, the ongoing studies are small and the children haven't been followed for that long, says Wesley Burks, MD, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., who was involved in all three studies.
Don't try this at home, he cautions. Unless they're in the study, Burks gives the same advice to patients with food allergies that he always has given: avoid the offending food.
"The findings are promising but we're not there yet. Families shouldn't do this at home on their own as there is a chance a child could have a significant life-threatening reaction," Burks tells WebMD.
Studies in children with milk allergies also show promise, he says.
The studies were presented here at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
More than 12 million Americans, including 3 million children, have food allergies, for which there is no cure. Allergies to peanuts are among the most dangerous, accounting for 15,000 trips to the emergency department and nearly 100 deaths each year, according to the AAAAI.
Moreover, the number of people with peanut allergies doubled over a recent five-year period, from four in 1,000 people in 1997 to eight in 1,000 in 2002, according to Robert Wood, MD, director of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Then, from 2002 to 2008, the figures shot up further, with 14 in 1,000 Americans now affected, he says.
"The goal of the new research is to cure the maximum number of people of food allergy while causing the least number of reactions," Wood tells WebMD.