Milk allergy is common and stubborn. Children who do not outgrow their milk problems will probably have a lifelong allergy, experts say. But new tactics are emerging to help children become desensitized to milk, including one reported Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in San Francisco.
Desensitization involves giving someone tiny amounts of the substance he or she is allergic to over a period of time so that the body adapts to it without provoking an allergic response. This approach can be successful, studies show, but it does take a long time and a lot of patience.
Researchers at Stanford University and Children's Hospital Boston created a new, expedited approach in which children were exposed to small amounts of milk powder along with the allergy drug omalizumab. This medication, known by the brand name Xolair, is an anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) medication. IgE is a class of antibody that is produced in an allergic response.
"IgE is the match that lights the fire behind reactions to foods or dog- or cat-allergies," said a co-author of the study, Dr. Kari Nadeau, director of food allergy research at Stanford and an assistant professor of pediatrics. "Anti-IgE is a way to protect the person from having reactions while they are increasing their exposure to the food."
In the study, 11 children with milk allergies were given omalizumab for nine weeks before being given a dose of two grams of milk protein, Nadeau said.
"That was a lot of milk for the people to tolerate," she said. In other desensitization protocols, "it takes about six months to get to a small dose that could be tolerable. We wanted to know: Could we go faster and safer?"
On the first day of exposure to milk powder, four of the 11 children had allergic reactions, while the rest tolerated the milk without any problems. As the study continued, the children were able to tolerate more milk powder. But more research is needed to identify which children are more likely to benefit from the therapy, Nadeau said.
"It offers hope to people with food allergies in general," she said. Researchers are continuing to look at other medications that may assist with desensitization.
Related: Learning to tolerate a peanut allergy
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