In just under two months, in the case of eggs, and between three and four, in the case of milk, patients will be able to consume a glass of milk (200 ml) or one egg every day, thanks to a new treatment of gradual desensitisation. “The quality of life for these patients is substantially enhanced”, confirms Doctor María José Goikoetxea, specialist in the Department of Allergology and Immunology at the University of Navarre Hospital.
It has to be taken into account that milk and eggs are not just basic foods, but are present in a wide range of cooked products, either as ingredients or in traces, and thus the quality of life of allergic patients is clearly affected. “In general, it is an allergy that about 80 % of children overcome spontaneously at three years of age. But there remains that 20 % who do not”, stressed Ms Goikoetxea.
The treatment, already applied in other hospitals in Spain, has been applied at the University of Navarre Hospital since the beginning of the current year, 2012 and the results could not have been more positive. “If we take a child or an adolescent, we can see that after the treatment they can eat cake in the morning, have a fried egg or a yoghourt for dinner, for example, and, moreover, they do not have to check the labels of all the products they consume. When they were patients they could not eat anything that had milk and eggs “, added Dr Goikoetxea.
Re-educating the cells
Treatment is easy and is fundamentally based on re-educating the cells how to react to innocuous foodstuffs such as, in this case, milk and eggs. This re-education is done by administering very small quantities of milk and eggs, tiny amounts at first, and the dose is increased progressively – these increases are always carried out at the hospital – so that the body assimilates these substances without reacting against them. And so on until the target dose is arrived at: a glass of milk (200 ml) or one egg. This process takes about two months in the case of the egg and between three and four in the case of milk.
The patients, once at the target stage, have to realise that the foodstuff which before was an illness has now become their cure but, for it to be effective, they have to take it almost every day. Doctor Goikoetxea explained, “this is the maintenance stage, i.e. the patient has to take a glass of milk daily and three eggs a week because if we eliminate the stimulus of these foods, we could lose the tolerance again”. Known as food desensitisation, induction to oral tolerance, or immunotherapy with food, this treatment involves manipulating and correcting the organism’s defences, making them sleep and thus act with normality in innocuous situations such as eating an egg or drinking milk.
As can be seen, it is a treatment that does not use pharmaceutical drugs, or at least not directly, in order to achieve a cure for the patient. Pharmaceutical drugs are only used to treat symptomatically any adverse reactions that the milk or eggs may produce during the course of the treatment. “This is why the increases in the dosage has to be carried out under strict medical supervision in the hospital itself”, stated Ms Goikoetxea.