An allergic reaction that develops after eating a certain food can be an alarming experience no matter how well you think you’re prepared. That is why doctors at Colorado’s Children’s Hospital are researching a patch that could help eliminate food allergies from the lives of children and their parents.
“If you ask parents what do they want, they just want their child not to be hurt when there’s an accidental ingestion,” Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, co-director of the Food Challenge Unit at Children’s Hospital Colorado said in an article.
He and Dr. David Fleischer, also co-director of the Food Challenge Unit, are researching a patch that slowly releases a patient’s allergen into their skin. That patch is put on the patient’s back and changed periodically. The patients are closely monitored by Greenhawt and Fleischer.
“The thought is that gradual exposure through the skin can increase desensitization,” Greenhawt added.
The goal is to increase a person’s resistance to their allergen just enough to prevent a severe reaction if that person accidentally eats a small amount of food (take peanuts, for example) that contains something to which they are allergic. You’d then be able to eat up to a certain amount and not react, Greenhawt explained.
The study comes at a time when food allergies are on the rise. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, the number of food allergies among children has increased by about 50% between 1997 and 2011. Researchers don’t quite know why, but they think now is an important time to educate the public, since this week marks Food Allergy Awareness Week.
“We’ve absolutely seen an increase not just in food allergies, but in all allergic diseases,” Fleischer said in the article.
One theory is that withholding foods like peanuts for too long could increase a child’s sensitivity to the food. That theory was part of research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which urges doctors to change their recommendations to parents.
“We used to recommend avoiding milk, egg and peanuts until you’re two or three years of age,” Fleischer said. “That changed recently with the guidelines in studies showing that if you introduce these foods earlier, you can actually decrease the risk of these children developing food allergies.”
Fleischer and Greenhawt are part of a committee of doctors and allergy experts who are helping to rewrite the recommendations to parents on when to expose their children to peanuts.
“Peanut was said to be avoided until you’re three years old. Now they’re recommending to introduce it between four and six months of age. So very young,” Fleischer said.
The new recommendations should be finished in a few months and the research on the allergy patch is ongoing. The doctors said using the patch for a full year will be necessary for the children in the trial before releasing the results.
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