Egg Allergy ‘Cured’ In Small Doses

By Amir Khan on July 19, 2012 9:56 AM EDT

A scientist checks eggs for bird flu at the Zooprophylactic Institute near the northern Italian city of Padua December 12, 2005.
A new treatment for egg allergies may sound unorthodox, but it works, according to a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found that by eating small doses of their allergen, people were able to overcome their egg allergy. (Photo: Reuters)

A new treatment for egg allergies may sound unorthodox, but it works, according to a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found that by eating small doses of their allergen, people were able to overcome their egg allergy.

The technique, called oral immunotherapy, attempts to desensitize people with food allergies by exposing them to increasing dosages of the allergen.

"Desensitization is not a new finding, although we're beginning to learn a lot of new things about it," Marshall Plaut, study coauthor and chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Allergic Mechanisms Section, told USA Today.

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Researchers looked at 40 children with egg allergies over and exposed them to small amounts of powdered egg whites every day. After 22 months, 30 of the 40 children became desensitized and had little or no allergic reaction. After two years, 11 of the 40 were able to fully incorporate eggs into their diet.

The findings show "another possible outcome of treating kids with food allergy," Plaut said. "We currently don't have an adequate treatment for food allergies [besides avoidance]."

Researchers stressed that oral immunotherapy is still experimental and should not be undertaken at home.

"This is a very exciting development into immunotherapy for food allergy," Lindsey McManus, from the charity Allergy UK , told BBC News. "It is however very early days and more research will be needed before this is used as a regular form of treatment. We would echo the warning in the report that this should never be tried at home due to the risk of serious allergic reactions."

 Stacie Jones, study coauthor and Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Arkansas Children's Hospital, told USA Today that while the results are promising, "There's a lot of details to be worked out."

Egg allergies are challenging because they are so ubiquitous, researchers said. They are used as flavorings and binders in various foods and are very hard to avoid.

The findings "provide some hope that we may have a therapy in the future or a series of therapies that will help children and families navigating the land mines of food allergies do it a little bit better," Jones said.

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