If your child suffer from food allergies, you are not alone. The prevalence of the “peanut table” in school cafeterias is not a new phenomenon simply because we are suddenly more sensitive to the problem—it’s a result of allergies becoming a problem more than ever before. According to one study, peanut allergies have risen more than threefold in the past 13 years. And a Fair Health study showed that allergy-related doctor and ER visits because of severe food reactions increased from 4.6% in 2007 to 22.1 percent in 2016. Food allergies are on the rise worldwide.
“Despite this rise, children with food allergies have promising new therapies on the horizon,” said Dr. Payal Patel, Board Certified Allergy & Immunology Specialist at Chicago ENT. “These involve immunotherapy which entails exposing the patient to the suspected food allergen in a controlled manner.” Two therapies are currently undergoing clinical trials and will go to the FDA for approval soon. One method is oral immunotherapy, where patients consume increasing and controlled amounts of the allergen over time. The other involves wearing a patch, which exposes the allergen to the skin over time.
“While these are not yet FDA approved, recent phase 3 clinical trials showed promising results,” said Dr. Patel. While the therapies likely cannot end an allergy altogether, they aim to make exposure to the allergen less dangerous. One of the drugs showed that after one year, 67 percent of children were able to tolerate what equals 2.5 peanuts. This possibility makes the allergy less life-threatening in the case of accidental ingestion or cross-contamination.
The same makers of the peanut patch immunotherapy also recently completed phase 2 trials on milk patch immunotherapy. “If achieved, this can be a promising treatment for many who suffer from milk allergy,” said Dr. Patel.
Several theories are being studied as to why food allergies are on the rise. One involves the hygiene hypothesis, which notes that microbial exposure in childhood helps to educate the immune system in deciphering between harmful bacteria and harmless allergens. It essentially questions whether we have become too good at protecting our bodies from microbes, causing the immune system to attack where it shouldn’t. Another hypothesis wonders if delaying introduction to allergenic foods such as peanuts has led to a rise in peanut allergy.
Regardless of theories about the cause, treatments aim to re-teach the body how to react. A recent Chicago Magazine article, The End of the Epidemic, goes into great detail about the various potential and upcoming treatment possibilities. The article focuses on the above-mentioned drugs, as well as a University of Chicago researcher, Cathy Nagler, who “wants to help the gut’s natural flora retrain the immune system from the inside out.”
“Research in the field of food allergies is being conducted at lightning speed,” said Dr. Patel. “Treatments are constantly evolving.”
If you are curious about treatments, visit the office and we can help you understand what is possible, and what is on the horizon.