Food allergies in children are not uncommon. For parents and the children themselves, they can be downright terrifying — especially in the child with a history of anaphylactic shock from eating a specific food. Schoolchildren with allergy action plans to give Benadryl and, in the worst case, an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection; parents who attempt to control every possible exposure; kids who, almost innately, avoid the foods they are sensitive to — all this leads to a heightened sense of anxiety for parents, teachers, coaches, and allergic children.
Melanie Thernstrom describes emerging evidence that an old trick might actually work for children who are most at-risk for life-threatening allergic symptoms:
Desensitization is a straightforward idea; it’s the same principle, according to legend, that King Mithridates VI used to cultivate immunity to poison (an occupational hazard of royalty in the ancient world). The therapy has been used successfully for environmental allergies for decades, by giving patients small injections of pollen or cat dander or other allergens, but it was considered too dangerous to try with food allergies until recently. A study testing various allergens was pioneered in Europe in the 1980s, and in the past five years, ongoing studies at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and other centers have shown that children can be safely desensitized to a single allergen, peanut, and, in separate trials, to milk and egg.
Studies are ongoing regarding desensitization and it will take some time, if the treatment is successful for more kids, to develop meticulous and careful protocols. No doubt the treatments will be tedious and expensive. But there is hope that these kids and their families won’t have to live in fear much longer.
Read article from last week’s New York Times Magazine here. If you have or know a child with severe food allergies, this very long article won’t scare you.