July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Egg allergies in children may be tempered by eating small amounts of powdered egg white over time, researchers said in the first major study that suggests a way to overcome food allergies.
Of the 40 children who were given egg-white powder, 11 were no longer allergic to eggs by the end of the trial and many of the rest ate larger portions of eggs with mild to no allergic symptoms, according to the study released yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine found.
The only current treatment for egg allergies is to avoid eggs and products that contain the food. Once the food is eaten, reactions range from hives and diarrhea to asthma-like symptoms and throat closings, the researchers said. The ban on eggs for patients differs from treatments for other allergies like dust mites and pollen, where small to increasing amounts of the allergen can be injected into the body to desensitize it.
“We really do not have a treatment for food allergy right now,” Wesley Burks, the lead study author and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, said in a July 16 telephone interview. “What we do when we take care of patients, we try to identify what food they are allergic to and help them avoid that food.”
The new study shows that for kids with egg allergy, “there’s promise for development of a future treatment,” he said. More research is needed to replicate the findings and to help identify who would most likely benefit from the therapy before doctors recommend children with egg allergies try this at home, Burks said.
By age 2 1/2, about 3 percent of children will have allergies to eggs, the researchers said.
The study included 55 children from ages 5 to 18 with egg allergies. Fifteen kids were given a placebo while the rest were given small amounts of powdered egg whites to be mixed into their food. An increasing amount of the powder was given to build up to about one-third of an egg daily.
After 10 months, the kids were given a food challenge to see if they could eat the equivalent of about one egg and 55 percent of those who were taking the powder passed without significant allergy symptoms while none of the children given placebo passed, the study showed. After 22 months, researchers gave another food challenge asking the children to eat the equivalent of about two whole eggs in powdered form and 75 percent of the children passed. Those who passed then stopped consuming the powder.
About two months later, those who passed were asked to consume the same amount of egg powder as they did in the 22-month challenge plus a whole cooked egg. Eleven kids, or 28 percent, passed and were able to eat eggs in their daily diet.
“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,” Robert Wood, a study author and director of allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, said in a statement. “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.”
The study was sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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