With one out of every 13 children having a food allergy, and no one enjoying allergy shots, its no wonder that the media, and parents, got very excited over the idea of oral immunotherapy. With oral immunotherapy, small doses of the allergen are ingested, instead of injected, to build immunity to the allergen.

Initial studies involved common allergens, such as peanuts, milk and shellfish. The studies seemed to be a success, and suggested that the benefits of oral immunotherapy would last. Unfortunately, the first long-term study of children using oral immunotherapy contradicts that theory.

Robert Wood, the director of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the John Hopkins Children’s Center, and his colleagues tracked 32 children who received oral immunotherapy for milk allergies in two different studies. Three to five years after the treatment, only eight children remained allergy-free, 12 children had regular and frequent allergic reactions, six had serious reactions and three had to use epi-pens at least once to prevent a life-threatening allergic reaction.

“At the end of our first study, we thought the milk allergy might be completely cured,” Wood said. “But some kids went back to avoiding milk and then had very severe reactions. So we think this lack of continuous exposure is the main underlying factor of why people lose protection to the allergen.”

The bottom line, according to Wood, is that “This treatment is not ready for prime time.” Kids should only receive oral immunotherapy if they’re enrolled in a research trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT