Food allergy or food hypersensitivity is an adverse reaction typically occurring within minutes of ingesting a culprit food. Food allergy reactions are mediated by the immune system and range in severity from mild reactions, such as isolated skin symptoms (e.g., hives, itching), to life-threatening reactions known as anaphylaxis. Though such reactions can be triggered by a variety of foods, the majority of food allergies can be attributed to 8 foods, including milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
The incidence of food allergy in the U.S. has risen dramatically in the last several years, and though many theories have been proposed, the exact reason for this increase remains unclear. To date, the mainstay of treatment for food allergy has been avoidance of the food of concern, and in most cases, keeping an epinephrine auto-injector on hand in case of life-threatening reactions. However, given the rising public health burden of food allergy, it has become increasingly apparent that new treatment modalities must be explored. As such, an abundance of research, clinical trials, etc., are underway to further address this growing issue.
We have always strived to remain on the cutting edge in the treatment of allergic conditions, and food allergy is no exception. The newest and most exciting food allergy treatment being explored is immunotherapy. The classic and most familiar example of immunotherapy are “allergy shots,” a form of desensitization to inhalant (e.g., pollen, pets and molds) or insect (e.g., wasp, honey bee) allergies. Food allergy immunotherapy attempts to extrapolate these same concepts in order to desensitize patients to culprit foods. Modalities of food allergy immunotherapy currently being explored are traditional injections, transcutaneous (i.e., food allergy patches), and oral treatments or oral immunotherapy (OIT). OIT, in particular, has shown great promise in recent studies.
An oral drug for the treatment of peanut allergy is currently in the last stage of clinical trials and may be available in the U.S. as early as late 2018. However, the burden of food allergy extends far beyond peanut allergy alone. A handful of allergy practices around the country are utilizing OIT for treatment of allergy to a variety of foods. Unfortunately, though, because only a few practices have put this treatment into practice, access still remains quite limited. As such, we are actively working to develop our own food allergy immunotherapy protocol in order to offer this much needed service to our community. To that end, Dr. Franklin will be attending a meeting next month with the nation’s experts on OIT to gain further expertise on the subject.
Stay tuned for our progress on the OIT front, and if you or someone you know is dealing with the burden of food allergy, let us help. We can be reached at (504) 889-0550 in Metairie or (985) 429-1080 in Hammond.
Jeffery F. Franklin, M.D.