Houston Family Food Allergy Support & Treatments
Texas Children’s Hospital Food Immunotherapy Treatment Studies Q & A with Dr. Carla Davis, Director of TCH Food Allergy Program
Editor’s Note: Dr. Carla Davis created the annual Food Allergy Symposium to connect Houston families and children with food allergies. An estimated 15 million Americans, including 6 million children, have food allergies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased about 50% between 1997 and 2011.
Third Annual Food Allergy Symposium
Texas Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women, 4th Floor
6621 Main Street
Saturday, September 24, 2016, 9 a.m.- Noon
Children ages 7 and above are welcome.
Why did you create the Food Allergy Symposium and why are you urging Houston families to attend?
DR. CARLA DAVIS:
In treating food allergy children and seeing the struggles of families in keeping them safe and comfortable, I found there is a need for education and networking. I met seasoned food allergy parents who were very skilled in keeping their children away from allergens while providing good nutrition. We needed a mechanism where new food allergic parents could link up to more seasoned parents. This is a way to decrease anxieties, to increase quality of life, to let a community know the great research and up to date treatments. The symposium offers breakout sessions so experts can answer questions directly from families.
What are some of the innovative allergy treatments that are being studied at Texas Children’s Hospital?
DR. CARLA DAVIS:
We want to pioneer new therapies for allergies. We are conducting clinical trials for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a process in which we try to treat the allergy by building the patient’s tolerance to the allergen. We start by exposing them to a small dose and over time, the dose is increased until the body develops more tolerance to the protein. There are different kinds of immunotherapy. Subcutaneous immunotherapy involves allergy shots and it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for environmental allergies only. Epicutaneous immunotherapy uses patches to build tolerance for aeroallergens and food allergies. Oral or sublingual immunotherapy is when the patient puts the dose under the tongue.
The FDA has not yet approved immunotherapy to treat food allergies. Please explain your pioneering efforts in treating peanut allergy – your promising clinical trials which are underway.
DR. CARLA DAVIS:
It’s exciting. We have clinical trials that have gone through preliminary stages for treatment of peanut allergies. We are hoping that the FDA will approve immunotherapy for peanut allergy within 3-5 years. We are conducting two Phase Three patch treatment trials and our results are very supportive of peanut immunotherapy being a viable treatment for the future. The concern is safety. Many children have reactions while they’re on the therapy. The question will be ‘Will the benefits outweigh the risk?’ Side effects are more common with oral than patch therapy. One percent of the population has peanut allergies that can cause anaphylaxis. Thirty percent of patients with peanut allergies also have tree nut allergies. We need to develop immunotherapy for the top food allergens. Eight foods cause 90 percent of food allergies: dairy, egg, wheat, soybean, peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish.
The Food Allergy Symposium is also focusing on Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) because its prevalence in children is increasing. What is this condition?
DR. CARLA DAVIS: Eosinophilic esophagitis is a food driven disease. The symptoms are similar to reflux and they’re caused by allergy cells collected in the esophagus, the upper tract. EoE patients experience reflux, abdominal pain, and difficulty swallowing so they have to avoid the food triggering the immune system. While classic food allergies can be life threatening, EoE is not life threatening. Treatment includes medicine and avoidance. We are developing new ways of diagnosing but a patch test or a prick test may be used.