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Kids may be able to overcome milk allergies

October 29, 2008 |  4:21 pm


Got a milk allergy? Normally, kids with the condition have to avoid milk, treat the reactions that do occur -- or wait to outgrow the allergy. A new study offers the possibility of another approach.

On the heels of a CDC report earlier this month establishing that food allergies are on the rise in children -- up 18% from 1997 to 2007 -- comes some good news from Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.

Researchers there were able to desensitize children to milk allergens by giving them progressively higher doses of milk protein, an approach more technically called oral immunotherapy.

Over four months, 19 kids who could tolerate an average of only 40 milligrams (a quarter of a teaspoon) of milk were given either progressively higher doses of milk powder or a placebo. By study's end, the 12 kids who had been given the increasing amounts of milk could tolerate 2,540 milligrams to 8,140 milligrams (2.5 ounces to 8 ounces) of milk without any allergic reaction or with only mild symptoms.

The seven who had been given a placebo could still tolerate only 40 milligrams of milk powder.

Said senior investigator Dr. Robert Wood in a news release:

"Our findings suggest that oral immunotherapy gradually retrains the immune system to completely disregard or to better tolerate the allergens in milk that previously caused allergic reactions. ... Albeit preliminary and requiring further study, these results suggest that oral immunotherapy may be the closest thing yet to a 'true' treatment for food allergy."

The researchers are studying the approach in kids with egg allergies as well. And if you're thinking maybe you could try this on your own ... that's probably not a good idea. Doctors seem to agree on that point.

Here's a WebMD report on oral immunotherapy for peanut allergies.

The new study was published online Tuesday in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times