Food allergies are on the rise and worried parents are looking for anything to help protect their children from a potentially life-threatening reaction. Parents are now turning to a controversial treatment known as OIT or oral immunotherapy. This works by giving someone a very small initial amount of the food they are allergic to while increasing that amount over time. The goal is to desensitize the body’s immune response to the allergen. When someone is allergic to a food, their body’s immune system attacks the food protein causing symptoms such as hives, itchiness, swelling, and wheezing. The more serious allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening. Those who suffer from these types of reactions may carry an emergency dose of epinephrine to treat the reaction. Parents are seeking out this controversial treatment due to the fear of anaphylaxis.

Does OIT Work?

More study is needed to answer this question, as many medical professionals consider this treatment to be in the experimental and investigational phases. There is not enough evidence showing the safety and effectivene3ss of OIT longterm, though we do have a starting point. Anecdotally, thousands of people who have tried OIT report remarkable results and call the treatment ‘life-changing.’

Clinical research data is also promising. One study involving 39 patients with peanut allergies administered OIT to 29 of them. Of the 29, 27 passed an oral food challenge of about 16 peanuts. Though the number of participants and peanuts is small, it has at least opened the door for allergists to administer OIT for patients in their private practice. One allergist even found that 80% of his patients become ‘bite-proof’. While this success rate is high, it also shows OIT does not work for everyone.

What’s The Downside?

As of the end of 2019, the FDA has not approved OIT, though this may change in early 2020. So again, more research is needed to confirm both short term and long term effects and effectiveness. There are known side effects to consider as well as the deeply concerning possibility of dying for anaphylaxis. As a parent, I understand worrying about your children with food allergies. Until more is known about OIT, the only sure way to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid consuming foods you are allergic to.

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