New Treatment for Serious Food Allergies: Is It Too Risky?

Does your child have a life-threatening food allergy? Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Duke University are aiming to make it much less serious–and, ideally, eradicate it. They’re currently testing whether “sublingual therapy,”  in which tiny amounts of the allergenic substance–such as milk–are placed under the patient’s tongue, could desensitize the body enough to allow it to move on to “oral immunotherapy,” in which the patient swallows small amounts of the substance.

According to CNN.com, “The results suggested that children who went through a year of sublingual therapy followed by one to two years of oral immunotherapy were less likely to have significant allergic reactions when undergoing the oral immunotherapy. Still, it did not eliminate all symptoms.” In fact 20 percent of the kids that the researchers work with have “significant reactions during the treatment that make the therapy unfeasible.”

Mason does not appear to have any serious food allergies, but the thought of him being exposed to a substance to which he had a life-threatening allergy, even in a controlled setting like a doctor’s office, terrifies me. I’m not so sure that I’d be willing to allow him to try the treatment, even if it were to be proven safe, because too many “what ifs” would be running through my mind.

But maybe that makes me a selfish parent? Or perhaps just a parent that doesn’t really know what it’s like to have a child with a dangerous food allergy.

After all, there’s tremendous value to desensitizing your child to a food that he or she is dangerously allergic to–you wouldn’t have to worry that her next bite of food would kill her. A peanut butter cookie or Cheerio would be just a tasty snack. An ice cream cone on a hot day would be a sweet way to cool off, not a scary risk. Cake with egg in it would be a treat, not a threat.

What do you think? Would you let your child try this treatment if it were to be proven safe?

Photo: Child eating ice cream via Monkey Business Images /Shutterstock

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  1. by Cara

    On March 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Yes I would allow my child to have such treatments. Scary / Risky sure, but so is living with a life threatening food allergy. These aren’t done at home, but in a very controlled hospital / doctor’s office environment. I don’t think of these as allowing him to eat peanuts again but reducing the severity of his reactions. I’m glad to see such treatments being researched.

  2. by MommaWilson

    On March 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I agree, if there is a chance to safely test my child so that her peanut/tree nut allergies are not life threatening I would be for the testing.

  3. by Jenny

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

    My son has been undergoing oral immunotherapy at a major hospital in connection to a similar study. While yes, it can be a little nerve wracking as he ingests something that could kill him under certain circumstances, it is a very controlled and safe setting there amongst doctors and nurses in the hospital. And it’s working! A little stress on these days is worth it to eliminate a lifetime of stress and difficulty for me and my boy.

  4. by shanna

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

    i do not understand this and i would have to have someone explan how they can give my child a lifethrteatening food and not have to give her an epipen everytime they do this? or would this be for food allergies that are not life threatening? i would go for the foods that are not life threatening to be tested and help not have as bad of reactions as for the life threatening?????

  5. by Summer

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I would not try it. Controlled setting or not there is no guarantee a child will come out of anaphylaxis even with doctors there giving medicines and I am not willing to try/risk that on either of my daughters one suffers peanut allergy and the younger suffers milk, eggs, wheat and nuts

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  7. by Cassi

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

    This would scare me to death. I am not sure what I would decide, and would deff. have to have her dr. explain it to me first.

  8. by Brandy

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Yes. My daughter looks forward to the time that she might be able to try this. She is also excited for a peanut allergy vaccine that we heard is being developed. She is an all around outgoing child, but she feels isolated that she has to ask about foods before they are safe to eat. I would like her to try something. If she had a bad reaction to treatment, then we would stop.

  9. by Patricia

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I absolutely would allow my poor egg-white allergic daughter to go through with this. I heard a lot of discussion about this while I was going through my allergy shots at the doctors office, and if it worked for me for my very serious seasonal allergies, why wouldn’t a controlled amount be okay for my 3 year old? Poor kid, every time we go to a birthday party it’s a big to-do, where I have to bake a special cake for her to bring and keep my eyes on her 100% of the time to make sure someone else doesn’t decide she needs to try something with eggs in it.

  10. by Crystal

    On March 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I would definately try it. My son is allergic to peanuts and it is very hard watching him miss out on alot of things because of his food allergy. I have to thoroughly research anywhere we eat beforehand to make sure it’s safe and when we are invited to a birthday party I am too afraid to even let him eat most of the food that is served because I have no idea what could have come in contact with peanuts. The thought that there could be a day where my son will no longer have to suffer with food allergies makes me very hopeful!

  11. by Amy

    On March 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    One of my daughters is allergic to peanuts and milk, and the other to milk and some berries. I would not even hesitate to try this treatment, at least for my daughter with the peanut allergy (the other allergies are less severe and not life-threatening). I would much rather she get exposed to peanuts in a controlled setting with the epinephrine shot on hand and ready to go if she were to have a severe reaction, than have her accidentally exposed at school when kid has a pb & J sandwich or someone brings a snickers for a snack. Even though SHE knows she can’t have those things, the other kids don’t realize that if they just touch her with a little bit of peanut butter on their hands, she could have a severe reaction. The thought just scares the heck out of me, and if this treatment has any chance of lessening or irradicating that reaction, I would do it in a heartbeat!

  12. by Sarah

    On September 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I was a kid with severe food allergies and now my son has few himself. I know what it feels like to go through anaphylaxis and even before it gets to that stage, it isn’t fun. I would not subject myself or my son to this txtment. It’s one thing for nasal allergies and another thing for food. Controlled environment my foot! These are the same professionals that put out drugs to make your life better and then a few months later we see the quiet commercials on late night TV asking if any of your loved one died from using the medication in the first place! And those were FDA approved too. It’s not a big desk going through life with a food allergy. As I got older, it became less severe and that’s true for most kids. I was taught as kid how to read labels, ask about, and taste food that I may be allergic to before swallowing it. Served me well and my son will be taught the same.

  13. by Sarah

    On September 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Point is: does the risk out weight the benefit? And is the allergy as bad as the other things you probably don’t think twice about that could be harming your kid more? Do you smoke around your son? Do you feed your daughter prepackaged meals 3x a day? Is your baby sleeping with pillows, stuffed toys, and crib trimming that they could smother in just because it’s cute?

    Everything has to be an easy fix these days and in most cases I’m good with that. But here, you aren’t even the one suffering through the aftermath! Im not doing anything to my baby I would not do to myself and I don’t trust these “controlled environments” that would seek to use my baby as a lab rat with no real guarantee it will work. With our children, our job is to protect them. Not subject them to the things that cause them harm and hopefully it makes your life easier on the back end. Life isn’t easy! And it’s not fair! Your kid can’t eat peanuts? So what? Tons of other great foods to enjoy. Unless your kid is the boy in the bubble, I can’t see how subjecting them to the risks out weights this uncertain benefit.

  14. by Tina

    On September 7, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    If a child has a serious food allergy that requires an epi-pen on hand, I don’t think it would be worth it to try the treatments. Every allergic reaction is different than the next. Some reactions worsen each time there is an exposure. Food allergies are not like cat and dog allergies that can usually be prevented by taking an antihistamine. Way too scary! I think I would wait until further testing is done.

  15. by Parent of peanut allergy kid

    On September 9, 2012 at 12:48 am

    TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. NO I WOULD NOT LET MY KID DO THIS.

    They have tried this before. It doesn’t work. Sadly.

    How allergies work, each time you are exposed to the allergen, peanut, the more antibodies your body makes. So the next time, even just the smallest amount could trigger the anaphylactic reaction.

    There seems to be something lacking, in the DNA or blood. What they need to create are injections – much along the lines of insulin, Neupogen ….. — a protein or hormone that helps make the pathway safe again.

    Remember, eating a grapefruit can interrupt the pathway of a lot of medicines. Just a grapefruit, one chemical compound.

    That is what needs to be done. They can’t treat peanut/nut allergy the same way as other allergens like pollen. It’s mechanism involves eating the food and it is broken down to proteins.

    Treat it with something like insulin, Neupogen,….a compound that has not yet been created.

  16. by Parent of peanut allergy kid

    On September 9, 2012 at 12:57 am

    What they also don’t tell you – look at the insert for EPI PEN
    1. Carcinogenic, mutagenic
    2. Powerful vasoconstrictor — cuts off circulation in limbs/arms/legs
    OK for bigger adults, but what about petite adults, small kids
    3. affects the heart rate
    4. Have you seen the needles — imagine the child, always danger of nerve damage

    There is NO MAGIC PILL for peanut allergy — best to avoid threat and think about the possible side effects of EPI PEN

  17. by Parent of peanut allergy kid

    On September 9, 2012 at 1:00 am

    What they don’t tell you — READ THE INSERT FOR EPI PEN

    1. Carcinogenic, mutagenic (alters DNA for future generations)
    2. Powerful vasoconstrictor – cuts off circulation in limbs/arms/legs
    Maybe OK for bigger adults, but what about petite adults, small kids
    3. Affects the heart
    4. Possible nerve damage from site of injection

    There is NO MAGIC PILL for treating life threatening reactions. Best to avoid allergen.

  18. by Once allergic to eggs, milk, wheat & soy

    On September 10, 2012 at 10:12 am

    At the age of 4, my oldest was diagnosed with a several allergy to eggs and a moderate allergy to wheat, soy, and milk. At the time (6 yrs ago), the ingrediants for sublingual immunotherapy had been FDA approved, but the administration of the drops under the tongue were not. Luckily, we had an allergost who was from Canada and was open to trying a treament that has been used for years in other countries. We paid (out of pocket) to treat our son via sublingual immunotherapy. Within two years of treatment, he was free of all four allergies and often eats eggs, whole wheat toast, and milk for breakfast. In a time when allergen free foods were not easy to pick of the store shelf, my life revolved around cooking and baking for my son. Sublingual immunotherapy saved him from a life of constantly missing out, and gave me one less thing to worry about. I am now (finally) pregnant with our second son, and if he turns out to have food allergies, I will absolutely seek out the treament for him.

  19. by Dona

    On September 11, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I have a daughter with multiple food allergies and would not let her try this. Her number for walnuts went down and the doctor said that I could try to give it to her and see what happens. With the number not being zero, I feel that it os important to stay away. Her life is in my hands and o would feel terrible if the outcome was not successful just because I chose to “try”.