An Allergy Revolution

An Allergy Revolution

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The past several weeks have seen a flurry of breakthroughs on the allergy front. In mid-November, this article was published in a leading pediatric journal declaring that 7.6% of all kids in the US have food allergies. That’s 6 million kids with food allergy in the US. Or an average of two in every classroom. One out of every five of theses kids will go to the emergency room within a year, and about half will do so over their lifetime. While these numbers are high, there is a silver lining: 11.4% of parents thought their kids had a food allergy. This means that there are millions of kids out in the world who are restricting their diets and living in fear of allergic reactions but don’t have to. This study shines a massive light on the scope of the problem and the even larger scope of the worry. 

The same week, this article appeared, suggesting that when a parent “cleans” a pacifier after it falls onto the floor but before popping it back into their child’s mouth, that parent may be saving their offspring from future allergic disease. This study looked not just at allergy but also asthma and eczema, three related issues that are all mediated by a specific arm of the immune system. It’s not a perfect study by any means – only about 100 mothers were interviewed, and they were asked several times over 18 months how they cleaned the pacifier. A better study would have had an observer actually watching their behavior. But still, there was a direct link between parental pacifier sucking and allergic disease. Not clear why this occurs, though the authors speculate it could be thanks to the passage of microbes. In other words, you may start hearing about how a parent’s microbiome impacts their child’s wellness in the future.

But the biggest study by far was the one that appeared just a few days later, suggesting that there may finally be a treatment for food allergies on the horizon. Now anyone with a food allergic child knows that there are lots of studies ongoing, and many kids have been managed with great success using various therapies. The breakthroughs in this field really started rolling about five years ago, thanks to dogmatic, passionate researchers like Kari Nadeau. But the recent study, reported pretty much everywhere including the New York Times and Stanford’s SCOPE blog report results showing that, after one year of therapy with a drug currently called AR101, two out of three kids were able to ingest two full peanuts without a reaction. These are kids with previous life-threatening reactions to miniscule doses of peanut protein. These success rates are the highest reported in the field – revolutionary stuff! – not to mention life-saving for kids with certain food allergies.

The world of allergy feels a bit like the wild west and, as a pediatrician, I couldn't be more excited to see all that’s on the horizon. There are ongoing trials studying patches and sublingual (under-the-tongue) therapies for food allergy, and others looking at new ways of treating environmental allergies, too. We have a long way to go in order to figure out why so many kids battle allergic disease (microbiome, anyone?), but it is joyous to see how much progress is being made on the treatment front. Want to know more? For starters check out FARE, my favorite central clearing house for all allergy information. And then start glancing at the science section in your favorite journal or magazine, because allergy research is sure to be covered lots in 2019.