The Boston Children's Hospital did a major and apparently successful test of desensitization treatments. I reported on them and a series of videos on the progress of the treatments in "Desensitization: the Hot New Word In Allergies and Desensitization Injections Cured Boy's Milk Allergy.
Today a report emerged from Dallas of another desensitization treatment, a different one of a different type. Take a look at Controversial Treatment Ends Food Allergies by Deborah Ferguson of the Dallas NBC affiliate.
Both treatments do have the same basic idea. Start with tiny quantities of the allergen, so tiny that the immune system can handle them with antibodies, and then so gradually increase the dosage that the body can keep up. It's based on well-tried cures for other allergy types.
"We fool the body's allergy and immune system by kind of sneaking up on it. We give very, very teeny doses of the food that causes the problem and gradually increase over time," is how Dr. Richard Wasserman described his food desensitization program. "This is an approach that has been done for one thing or another for a hundred years. It just hasn't been done for foods very often, and developing the protocol we use has allowed us to make a difference and take care of a lot more children."
Even in the small, 50 person trial, however, it's not all successes and champagne.
"Sometimes people do have problems and can't tolerate the food even with this procedure," Wasserman said. "This is a demanding thing for a patient and family."
The increasing number of successes is certainly promising and the fact that some insurance plans will pay for it is a cause for that champagne, especially for a $5000 program.
What's also great is that these programs are treating children who have had allergies for years. One 10-year-old who had to avoid dairy since infancy can now have milk.
Small clinical trials don't always translate into mass programs that everyone can use. The fact that several different programs are reporting good results is a good sign. Parents should talk to their pediatricians and keep informed.