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Food Allergy Treatments for Children Show Promise

New clinical trials designed to desensitize patients to allergens like dairy or peanuts are allowing some to eat foods they never thought possible.
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An estimated 15 million people in the United States have a food allergy of some sort, and according to the journal “Pediatrics,” 5.9 million of them are children.

Now researchers are working on a way to desensitize patients who suffer from some of the most common allergens in the U.S.: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Dr. Stephen Tilles of the Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center in Seattle says there are now two treatments being tested that may give children a chance to taste food that would normally send them to the hospital.

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The first involves a skin patch that contains a small amount of the food allergen’s protein. The protein is absorbed by the top layers of the skin, providing immunotherapy. Tilles is currently testing this patch with the peanut allergen.

The second is oral immunotherapy. Patients are given a low dose of an allergen in the hospital – enough to produce mild symptoms. They continue to receive that dose for a couple weeks, Tilles, said, until they can tolerate a bit more. Over time, the patient becomes desensitized to the allergen.

While results for both are promising, they’re also both in the preliminary stages of ongoing trials.