By Dr. Amy Wechsler
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You know how important it is to avoid the foods that trigger your allergies. But researchers are studying whether getting a tiny amount of those foods might help your body get used to them and reduce the chance of a serious reaction.
It’s called oral immunotherapy, and so far it seems to work best for peanut, milk, and egg allergies. In studies, people have been given a tiny amount of the food they’re allergic to, while a doctor monitors them for any reaction. Over time, they get a little more of the food.
In one study, kids with egg allergies were given small doses of egg white powder every day. After 10 months, more than half of the kids could eat the equivalent of one egg with few or no symptoms. After almost two years of the treatment, 75% of the kids were practically symptom-free.
It’s important to note that these are research studies in carefully controlled situations. Don’t try this at home -- you could have a life-threatening reaction.
Another similar treatment is called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). It’s been used in Europe and has been studied in the U.S. for nasal allergies and asthma. Researchers are now investigating whether it can help food allergies, although it’s not yet approved to treat any allergies in the U.S.
With SLIT, a doctor puts a few drops containing the food under the person’s tongue for a minute or two. The doctor watches closely to make sure there’s no serious reaction. Over time, the dose is increased.
So far, researchers have studied SLIT for peanut, milk, peach, and kiwi allergies. The studies show that it works for many people while they are getting this treatment, but researchers are still looking at whether it lasts after people stop getting the daily doses.
It's still early in the research stage, but the asthma medicine Xolair (omalizumab) may make oral immunotherapy work better. Researchers are studying it to see if it may help by itself. Right now Xolair is only approved in the U.S. to treat allergic asthma.