Dec 27, 2012 10:38 AM by Marissa Torres
It's estimated one out of every eight children in the US has a food allergy. A number that's shot up nearly 20 percent since the 1990's. There's no cure, so the only way to protect those kids is to help them avoid the foods that make them sick.
Now a new approach to fight food allergies has doctors feeding kids the very thing they're allergic to.
It wasn't long that cooking up eggs for breakfast was unthinkable for Alex Pritchard. As a baby he was diagnosed with severe food allergies, including eggs.
"It's in everything. Everything from flu-shots to meatballs, because you use egg as a hinder when you cook" says Alex's mom, Tammy.
Because of that, Alex spent most of his life avoiding a wide range of foods, until now.
"It took a while for him to get to that point, but you know, his life has completely changed."
That change is credited to what's called "immunotherapy." It's a therapy based on exposure, not avoidance. Patients are first put through a test, developed at National Jewish Health in Denver, called a food challenge, that tells doctors what foods kids are allergic to.
Using small doses of powdered food, the idea is to expose children to the foods they're allergic to- little by little, day by day.
"The overall goal is to see if they can actually outgrow their allergies, meaning they can actually develop a tolerance over time" says Dr. David Fleischer with National Jewish Health.
And early results show the strategy is working. In the past year, researchers have reported positive results for both egg and peanut allergies, though their results come with a caution.
"We're dealing with food allergens that can be very dangerous. This is not something that can be done at home."
National Jewish Health doctors say they've seen a lot of success so far with this therapy, but the approach is still in the early stages and need more time to develop it.