Eight percent of children less than two years old suffer from food allergies, and many go untreated due to the common allergy myth “my child will outgrow food allergies.” We’ll pause here and say that it’s not a complete myth; many children do indeed grow out of their food allergy. However Vijay Sabnis, MD, partner at Allergy Associates of La Crosse and contributing author of the La Crosse Method™ Protocol, explains why treating young children for food allergy early can have significant benefits.
First of all, true allergy is mediated through our immune system producing aberrant antibodies (called IgE) which interact with mast cells in the presence of an allergenic food. So, how do children simply outgrow an allergy? “As children grow older and as their immune system matures, regulatory cells form that were not there before to control their aberrant response. By and large, the incidents and prevalence of allergy becomes less and less by the time they are 12 or 13 years old,” advised Dr. Sabnis. “The problem is, what do you do until then? Do you sit by and allow your child to suffer for the majority of their formative years?”
“Some children are allergic, but just mildly reactive,” he says, meaning they may show symptoms such as swollen lips, itchy throat, and hives. “That’s the mild end of the spectrum. While at the other end of the spectrum you can have a severe acute allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that can be life threatening. Between the mild and the extreme, there can be other grades of allergies too,” Dr. Sabnis says. Symptoms such as recurrent nasal sinus symptoms, skin rashes and eczema, and asthma spells can very negatively impact quality of life.
Testing for and treating the food allergy as early as possible, especially for those on the moderate to severe end of the spectrum, is important in order to allow the child to develop in a healthy and productive way. Dr. Sabnis says that chronic allergy symptoms can interfere with the early formative stages of growth and development, impacting hearing, speech, sleep, breathing, and motor function. Even mental and physical development can be affected. “This is why treating allergy early is important, because it not only treats the disease, but also seems to create optimal conditions for normal growth and development,” he says.
Here is where this myth is tested
While it’s true, 80% of children do outgrow their food allergy, the other 20% may not, due to a strong genetic history of allergy and other contributing factors. Additionally, even though the 80% may seem to have overcome their offending allergy, Dr. Sabnis explains that allergy may reoccur later on in life, whether it’s the same offending allergen or something completely different. For example, Dr. Sabnis says that a patient could experience milk allergy in infancy and outgrow it, to later acquire eczema, then allergic rhinitis, and then asthma, all due to allergy. The slow progression has been described as the ‘atopic march.’ Knowing this progression is possible, Dr. Sabnis explains that treating allergy early on in a child’s life is important so that it can be ‘nipped in the bud’ so the patient doesn’t have to deal with progressing allergies as his or her life goes on.
Immunotherapy is often recommended to treat the root cause of the disease (correcting the aberrant allergy pathway undertaken) and create a more positive and healthy way of life for patients.
When considering the needs of children, sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops) seems to be most beneficial and practical in comparison to other immunotherapy treatments. What can be simpler than taking one drop in your mouth under the tongue three times a day?
When you take injection therapy, you have to take it weekly when it’s in the buildup phase and you have to go to the doctor’s office for each injection. You have to wait an hour, at least, sometimes two. It’s time intensive, labor intensive, effort intensive and expensive and fraught with systemic reactions. On the contrary, sublingual immunotherapy is safe, cost efficient, and efficacious. “I would say that sublingual immunotherapy can be a godsend, especially for children,” Dr. Sabnis says. Children also tend to enjoy the freedom from needles and other constraints, as drops are administered at home and require minimal office visits.
Learn more about how allergy drops can help address your child’s food and other allergies.
By Taylor Pasell, Allergychoices