Food Allergy Treatment
Once a food allergy is certain, the best treatment is to avoid the food. You need to carefully check ingredient labels of food products. You should learn other names for the food or foods that you and your doctor think it best to avoid to be sure not to eat them.
When you eat out, you should be extra careful. Waiters (and sometimes the kitchen staff) may not always know every dish ingredient on the restaurant’s menu. Sometimes, even walking into a kitchen or an eatery where food is being prepared can cause a dangerous reaction. Vapor may carry extremely small particles that can be harmful.
All patients with food allergies must make some changes in the foods they eat. Your allergist can direct you to helpful resources, such as:
- Special food allergy cookbooks
- Patient support groups
- Registered dietitians
What if I eat a food I'm allergic to?
You need to have a clear plan of action in case you eat a food you shouldn’t. Place a list of symptoms and your doctor’s instructions for treatment within easy reach in your kitchen. Medications can be very useful in treating many early symptoms of mild food allergies.
If you have had severe allergic reactions, you need to know when and how to give yourself a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline) to treat a severe reaction. You should go to the hospital or call 9-1-1 and arrange for follow-up care when the reaction is severe. Bracelets or necklaces may be worn to quickly alert medical personnel or other caretakers about food allergies.
Which foods are most likely to cause allergies?
The most common foods causing allergies are:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts
- Fish and shellfish
Will I ever be able to eat these foods again?
Over time, allergies to cow’s milk, eggs and soy may disappear. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish typically last a lifetime. About one-third of children and adults who had food allergies at some point are eventually free from food allergies after very carefully avoiding the foods.
After you have avoided foods causing allergies for at least six months, your allergist may want to run a test, under observation, to see if you are cured. If you have no reaction and can eat a normal portion of the food, you will be able to start eating the food again if you wish. If any allergy symptoms occur, you should continue to avoid the foods.
Once you have had a severe, sudden, life-threatening reaction to a certain food you may be advised to never again eat this food. In some very allergic persons, a very small quantity of a food can produce a life-threatening reaction.
By using caution and carefully following an allergist’s advice, you can bring food allergy under control. Please contact your allergist with further questions and concerns about food allergy.
Researchers are now studying ways to go beyond today's methods of treating allergies. Food allergy research may soon produce new and better ways to block the body's allergic response by reducing or inhibiting the release of histamine and other chemicals that cause allergic reactions.What’s New in Food Allergy Treatment?
There is no cure for food allergy, which is a possibly life-threatening medical condition that affects approximately 15 million Americans. But there is hopeful news. In recent years, researchers in food allergy treatments have made progress.
These advances include studies on:
- Oral immunotherapy
- Sublingual immunotherapy
- Chinese herbal medicine, and
- Anti-IgE therapy.
While these treatments are still in ongoing studies to determine safety and long-term tolerance, there is reason for optimism, as they represent the most promising advances in food allergy research in years.
First we need to define a few terms:
- Tolerance means the treatment results in being symptom free when you eat the food suspected of causing a problem for weeks, months or even years after ending your treatment. Also, eating the food only occasionally can be tolerated.
- Desensitization means the treatment allows only short-term relief. The suspected food can be eaten only while you continue treatment.
Oral Immunotherapy (OIT)
This treatment has been around for more than 100 years, but its use for food allergies has only recently had favorable results. Most studies are for peanut, egg, and milk allergies and are being conducted to determine if treatment can result in long-term tolerance rather than just short-term relief (desensitization).
A tiny amount of the allergen (for example, peanut flour) is given under close medical supervision. The amount of allergen is increased over time with reactions monitored and treated.
Up to 20 percent of children studied have had serious reactions and stopped treatment. Others experienced symptoms, but as treatment continued their symptoms decreased. Between 50 to 75 percent experienced short-term relief.
In one peanut study, the majority of children were able to have peanuts in their everyday diet after completing treatment. Long-term tolerance is still being studied.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)
This treatment involves placing a small amount of the allergen, dissolved in a solution, under the tongue for one or two minutes. It is done under close medical supervision. So far, SLIT studies have been conducted for peanut, milk, kiwi, and peach allergies.
In one recent peanut study, participants who completed 12 months of treatment were able to eat six to seven peanuts without a reaction. Although the results show that short-term relief can be achieved, more studies must be done to assess long-term tolerance.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Ongoing studies are being conducted regarding the safety and effectiveness of a Chinese herbal formula, FAHF-2, to prevent serious, life threatening allergic reactions called anaphylaxis.
This herbal formula has been tested in a study involving patients with peanut and tree nut allergy. The formula was determined to be safe and well-tolerated. Current clinical trials include peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, and sesame allergy.
A medicine for the treatment of asthma is being studied as a possible short-term relief treatment for food allergies. It consists of anti-IgE molecules that bind to IgE – the antibody involved in allergic reactions. Researchers hope to be able to determine whether this medication could prevent allergic reactions. Current research is focused on combining the treatment with OIT to possibly create long-term tolerance. This research is currently in the early stages of clinical trials.