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'Egg therapy' for children's allergies: What parents should know

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
'Egg therapy' successful for curing children's allergies.

Results of a new study show eating egg protein in small then higher doses could be good therapy for curing children who have allergic reactions if they consume eggs. The idea is that the body can provide its own type of immunotherapy to get rid of food allergies. Is egg therapy something parents should try at home? The answer is an absolute no.

Experimental immunotherapy cures some children of egg allergy in controlled research

Children who eat small amounts and gradually increased their intake eventually had little or no reaction to eating eggs. The same type of therapy can be used for peanut, milk and other food allergies, based on past findings from Johns Hopkins researchers.

The current study looked at oral immunotherapy among 40 children. Thirty-five experienced improvement. The study was conducted as part of the NIH-funded Consortium of Food Allergy Research.

Five patients dropped out of the study because of allergic reactions, making it important to emphasize that ‘egg therapy’ or any other type of oral immunotherapy for food allergies must be done in a clinical setting; under physician supervision and in a controlled manner.

The therapy was successful in 11 out of 35 children who experienced complete elimination of allergy related to eggs.

The rest of the children had improvement and were able to tolerate higher egg doses with mild symptoms. Once the therapy stopped tolerance again decreased.

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The study authors say any improvement is considered a success for parents and patients because it means lower possibility that a child will experience a serious reaction known as anaphylaxis that can lead to serious consequences and even death.

"More than a quarter of the children in our study lost their egg allergies altogether, but we also saw dramatic improvements in those who didn't, which in and of itself is an important therapeutic achievement," says Robert Wood, M.D, director of allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in a press release. "These children went from having serious allergic reactions after a single bite of an egg-containing cookie to consuming eggs with minimal or no symptoms."

After 10 months of increasing doses of either an egg white powder or a cornstarch placebo, 22 of 35 children given egg therapy were able to consume 5 grams of eggs protein. Fourteen had no symptoms. All of the 35 children, age 5 through 18, continued daily egg whites for 22 more months and 30 passed the next food challenge of 10 grams of egg protein.

The children who passed then abstained from any egg consumption for a period of 4 to 6 weeks and then underwent another ‘food challenge’. Eleven children were considered completely cured of their egg allergy. One year later, per telephone interviews, all 11 children continued to eat eggs ad lib with no symptoms.

The finding shows promise for using egg therapy to rid children of allergy to a food that can be accidentally ingested at restaurants or parties and is still in the experimental stages.

Eating the same food they are allergic to can help ease or eliminate food allergies in children. It’s important for parents to know giving a child eggs, peanuts or other foods in small doses at home when they’re known to be allergic can be dangerous. The current study was carried out under strictly controlled research conditions.

"Oral Immunotherapy for Treatment of Egg Allergy in Children"
A. Wesley Burks, M.D., et al.
July 19, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile