New Strategies May Help Overcome Food Allergies

Charles Jones describes his 6-year-old son’s peanut allergy as “sort of a black cloud everywhere we go.” Watson Jones’ family never knows where peanut particles might lurk. In the scooper at the ice cream parlor? In the pesto at the pizzeria? On the monkey bars at the playground?

Watson is one of an estimated 4% of Americans — 3 million of them children — who are allergic to foods ranging from shellfish to nuts. Even a trace could trigger a lethal reaction.

“All other allergies have lots of treatments,” says Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. “With food allergy, we have nothing: Avoid the food, take epinephrine (adrenaline shots to counteract anaphylaxis, a deadly reaction) and get to the hospital.”

Accidental exposures to food allergens are common. Each year, they lead to 50,000 emergency room visits and cause at least 150 deaths in the USA, Munoz-Furlong’s non-profit says. Most children outgrow milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies, but allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish often are lifelong.

But now, several new potential treatments are moving from laboratory and animal testing and into clinical trials, giving patients and their families hope that they someday may subdue or even conquer food allergies.

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