Is Food Immunotherapy an Effective Food Allergy Treatment?


We do not currently have strong treatment options for kids (or adults) with food allergies apart from telling them to stay away from the foods they’re allergic to. This may change with immunotherapy, which is one of the potential treatments being studied for food allergies. Let’s go over what this therapy is and the way it works, to help you understand how it could impact your child’s future.

About Immunotherapy

With increasing food allergy rates and the dangers of severe reactions, a better treatment option than avoidance or elimination is needed. Immunotherapy is an option researchers find promising. While it hasn’t yet been released as a treatment for food allergy, it has already been in use for other types of allergies, including plant pollens and hypersensitivity to insect venom. Also, immunotherapy for food allergies has been studied for years, yet many questions remain.

An immunotherapy product for a peanut allergy is moving forward, while walnut and egg studies are being planned. There is not yet a date for the release of immunotherapy products, so this is something to look for in the future. Some allergists currently provide immunotherapy from their offices, but this method uses commercial food instead of a researched product and is not FDA-approved.

How Does Immunotherapy Work?

Immunotherapy involves being exposed to a small amount of the allergen over time. With a food allergy, this often happens through ingestion, but children can also be exposed to the food under the tongue or on the skin. Depending on the type of allergen exposure, the dose may be increased over time or the person may receive a fixed dose continuously.

The idea behind immunotherapy is to desensitize so the body doesn’t have the same reaction to the food. You should not try to follow this theory and desensitize anyone at home, because there could be side effects and there are not yet established best practices to this method.

The Downsides

Food immunotherapy is unfortunately not a cure for a food allergy. Nonetheless, the hope is that it can provide protection to prevent a severe, possibly life-threatening reaction in case the person accidentally comes in contact with an allergen. People who receive this therapy will most likely still need to follow similar precautions to what they normally do, yet they can have less anxiety and potentially less likelihood of a severe reaction.

Another downside is that there have been side effects from immunotherapy. The various side effects have included abdominal pain, hives and even anaphylaxis.  

Also, there is still a lot that is not known about this therapy. Not all food allergens have been as extensively studied as others. Also, researchers are studying whether the person needs to have continual exposure to the allergen or whether they can still be protected after periods of non-exposure. Most importantly, they are not positive whether this therapy would definitely prevent a severe reaction upon accidental exposure. There are also questions of how certain factors relate to immunotherapy’s efficacy, such as multiple allergies and the type of food allergy. All of this uncertainty is why immunotherapy is continuing to be studied and has not yet been made a mainstream treatment for food allergies.

If your child does not outgrow their food allergy, immunotherapy is one of the treatments in development with the potential to change your child’s future. If you’re interested, keep an eye on this treatment method. When it’s available, talk to your allergist about whether it’s a good option for your child.

Would you try immunotherapy or other developing treatments for your child?