Allergies affect approximately 50 million people in the United States. For years, allergy treatment has focused more on controlling the symptoms than preventing the reactions. However, more money for research has led to a greater understanding of allergies’ root causes. As a result, promising advances have been made into treatments that could prevent the reactions that cause so much misery and can sometimes be life threatening.
The following treatments are still experimental, and more testing is required to be sure that they are safe and effective. However, in a matter of years allergy sufferers could be benefiting from treatments based on the following advancements.
Oral and Epicutaneous Immunotherapy
Currently, immunotherapy consists of injection of allergen extracts in a specific formulation so that the body can build up a tolerance to it. Allergy shots can be highly effective but are not available for food or medication allergies. Recent developments in allergen-specific therapy have found ways to administer the allergen extracts via alternate routes, such as by mouth. Another type of immunotherapy is epicutaneous, which consists of a patch applied to the skin that delivers the allergen extracts into the body in small amounts. This is similar to the way that a nicotine patch works to assist smoking cessation.
The trouble with immunotherapy is that there is a risk of a severe anaphylactic reaction when introducing the allergen into the system, even in controlled amounts. Research in Japan is working on a vaccine that would incorporate some of the DNA of the allergen and introduce it into the symptom so that the body could start building up resistance without being exposed to the allergen. The hope is that this would reduce the risk of adverse effects.
Allergic reactions result when exposure to an allergen activates a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E. A new biologic medication called omalizumab would block the reaction by binding to IgE within the body.
Modified Food Allergens
While most of these treatments seek to change the body’s response to allergens, this approach seeks to change the allergen itself. It is usually specific proteins in food that set off an allergic reaction. Genetic modification could change these proteins into a form that the immune system would no longer recognize as a potential threat.
In addition to knowledge and practice in the treatments that are available now, our allergists are keeping an eye on future developments. An allergist, like an allergist in McLean, VA from Black & Kletz Allergy, will be happy to explain your treatment options when you come in for a consultation.