The study – directed by professor Alessandro Ventura, Director of the Clinic – lasted three years, at the end of which 36% of the children involved, once severely allergic with important, generalized reactions to even minimal contact with the dangerous food, and therefore life threatened, has re-achieved the ability to follow a normal diet without presenting any adverse reactions. On the other hand, 54% of the patients involved in the study were able to tolerate minimal quantities of the incriminated food in their diet.
With this experimental work, recently published by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the researchers confirmed the validity of a face-to-face direct approach to severe food allergies that the Burlo Garofolo has been persecuting since long, in countertrend to the majority of the allegologists that limit the treatment of severe food allergies to strict elimination of the harmful food from the diet. In Europe, allergies to specific foods such as milk or egg proteins are on the up. In Italy, at least 400,000 children aged 5 - 15 suffer from this disorder, and 3000 are at risk of severe reactions for minimal contact with the allergen.
The protocol – Sixty Italian children, classified as “superallergic” to milk or eggs according to the severity of the symptoms, were selected and involved in the study. “The desensitization schedule is articulated in two parts – explains Giorgio Longo, Director of the Allergology Department of the Burlo Garofolo – the first one, where there is a major risk of severe reactions, lasts 10 days and takes place in the Hospital. During the hospitalization, milk is administered at rapidly increasing doses, at two hours intervals, until at discharge the child is able to intake 10 to 20 ml of pure milk”. The second part takes place at home, with the cooperation of the parents that, according to a scheme provided by the doctors continue the administration of milk, once a day, at a much slower and gradual rate of increase. In doing so the child is able to tolerate ever increasing doses of milk, until he or she is able to follow a completely normal diet. The positive result (recovery) is usually obtained within a year.
The results – One third of the treated patients now eats freely, whatever he or she feels like. Half of them have not reached a normal diet yet, but are able to introduce significant quantities of milk without showing any adverse reaction. 10% of the treated patients did not respond positively to the treatment, and despite all the attempts, keep on to presenting important adverse reactions.
Are there any risks with this strategy? “We did not have any lethal cases. However, desensitization can be accompanied by some complications – confirms Egidio Barbi from the Pediatric Clinic, available 24 hours a day for emergencies that might occur during the home phase of the protocol. “However, given the potential benefits, it’s a risk worth to be taken. The protective strategy, i.e. the elimination of the incriminated food, is dangerous as well: statistically, even children who intentionally avoid the dangerous food occasionally come across the allergen during the 5 years following the onset of the diet. Usually, these patients develop very severe reactions.”
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