As a parent, you would love nothing more than to be able to reverse food allergies in your child, to take away the uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening reactions she has to even minor contact with an allergen. You would love to take away the need to explain to schools and parents the importance of minimizing exposure and to stop worrying about her whenever you can’t be there to protect your child. So is there a way to reverse food allergies? Is there a cure?
Can You Reverse Food Allergies With a Cure?
The short answer to the question of whether or not you can reverse food allergies, or in other words cure them, is no. Currently, the only definite way to avoid a food allergy reaction is to avoid the food allergen. If you have a child who is allergic to milk and he never comes into contact with milk, he will be fine. Of course, that is a simple statement that becomes very complicated in the real world.
There may be no way to reverse food allergies now, but a cure could be on the horizon. Research being conducted at Stanford Medical School shows promising results in using oral immunotherapy to treat and potentially cure children of food allergies. The treatment involves giving a child incrementally larger amounts of an allergen over time. It starts out small, with maybe a tiny grain of wheat flour for a child with a wheat allergy.
The idea is that a child becomes desensitized to the allergen that triggers a reaction, and it has worked with other types of allergies, like those to pollen or ragweed. It is important to understand that these trials in oral immunotherapy for food allergies are conducted under the guidance of allergists, immunologists and physicians. To try this kind of treatment without that guidance is extremely dangerous and could even be fatal.
To Reverse Food Allergies May Just Be Luck
Some children, the lucky ones, eventually outgrow their food allergies and never have to live with them again. While between 6 and 8 percent of children live with food allergies, only 3 to 4 percent of adults do because of this phenomenon. It’s not clear why some kids outgrow their allergies, but there are some patterns:
- Milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies are those most likely to be outgrown by adulthood or adolescence.
- Between 60 and 80 percent of children allergic to milk or eggs are able to eat these foods by the age of 16 without having a reaction.
- Teens or children with milk or egg allergies who can eat them in baked form are more likely to be able to tolerate plain eggs or milks by adulthood.
- Fish, shellfish, peanut and tree nut allergies are much less likely to be outgrown.
- Only 20 percent of children allergic to peanuts will outgrow that allergy.
- Only 5 percent of children allergic to fish or shellfish will outgrow it.
- The more severe an allergy is, the less likely the child is to outgrow it.
It May Not Be Possible to Reverse Food Allergies Yet, But You Can Prevent and Treat Reactions
While we wait to see if oral immunotherapy will provide the cure that so many parents have dreamed of to reverse food allergies in children, the best thing you can do for your child is prevent reactions and treat them if they happen. Prevention of reactions is the number one way to treat food allergies, and it is all about minimizing exposure. You have to get to know your child’s allergen and all the ways it can be listed on food labels. You must educate your child’s teachers and other school officials, parents of their friends and others so they can take precautions.
When reactions do occur, which is inevitable, you can treat them to make your child feel better. Minor reactions can be treated with antihistamines that you get over the counter. If your child is susceptible to a severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, make sure she always has an epinephrine injector on hand and knows how to use it. Have several backup injectors and ensure that a couple of them are kept at school. When you take the right precautions, you can protect your child from food allergies while we wait for a cure.