For kids with an allergy to eggs, the wrong meal can bring misery. Many foods use eggs — they’re even in many vaccinations — and an allergic reaction may range from a bad stomachache to difficulty breathing.
But scientists now report that eggs themselves may be used to beat back an egg allergy.
Like fighting with fire, the researchers found that some children who ate increasing amounts of egg every day overcame their egg allergy. It didn’t happen overnight, the scientists reported in the July 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Overcoming an egg allergy actually took about two years of using this slow and steady method. Still, the finding offers hopes that many children with the common allergy may eat more safely and with less fear.
A food allergy occurs when the body’s natural defenses become confused and wrongly interpret some food as harmful. In response, those natural defenses, called the immune system, mount an attack. The new remedy seems to teach a kid’s immune system how to deal with an egg without attacking.
The approach didn’t work for every child who participated in the study. Forty kids ages 5 to 11 tried the egg-eating treatment. After 22 months, 30 of those 40 were able to eat eggs without having a reaction. Eggs continued to provoke a reaction in 5 of the 40. Five of the children had to drop out of the study early on because they had a serious allergic reaction.
“For a small group of kids, this isn’t the right therapy,” Wesley Burks told Science News. Burks, who worked on the new study, is a pediatric immunologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. A pediatric immunologist helps children with allergies or other problems related to their immune system.
Other researchers have used the same slow approach to treat peanut and milk allergies. Burks says that in general, about 1 in 10 kids has such a serious allergic reaction early in the study that he or she has to drop out.
And the cure didn’t stick for every participant. A year after the end of the treatment, the scientists again tested those children who had responded well. This time, only 10 out of 30 kids had no reaction when they ate eggs.
Knowing which children will be cured and which ones won’t is an important issue that needs to be resolved before this treatment can become common. So if you have an egg allergy, don’t try this at home. Wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test and approve the treatment, and then only then consider doing it if your doctor is supervising it every step of the way.
“This study does offer hope that in the next few years a treatment could be developed,” Burks told Science News, “but we’re not there yet.”
allergy A reaction by the body’s immune system to a substance to which it has become hypersensitive. Among the more common allergies: ones to pollen, fur or a particular food or dust.
immunity The ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or poison by producing and releasing special protective cells.
immunology The branch of medicine dealing with the body’s natural defenses, or immune system.
pediatrics The branch of medicine dealing with children.