Clinics are opening up around the country offering oral immunotherapy for those with severe food allergies. The practice is controversial, but early studies have shown it to be effective and parents and children with severe allergies are eager to find out if it helps.

Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is the subject of many current and pending clinical studies and is the basis for many treatments undergoing the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process. Early indicators are that OIT is highly effective, at least for the near-term, but long-term effectiveness is not proven and remains an unknown.

OIT puts patients in front of their worst allergens in a clinical setting where help is a few seconds away.

The idea is to desensitize the patient’s immune system to allergens gradually, by exposing them to more and more of the allergen over time. Many patients with peanut allergies, the most commonly-treated food allergy in OIT, can leave after months of treatment able to handle large, even normal eating doses of an allergen.

Yet most established clinics and hospitals are not offering the treatment outside of clinical studies, but a growing number of specialty clinics are opening doors or switching to the option and offering it as treatment. Although OIT is not FDA approved for any food allergy, it is not illegal to offer it to those who are aware of the risks.

Success rates in studies have varied, but usually fall into the very positive side at 80-90 percent of patients gaining a tolerance. This, coupled with the news in the media that OIT seems to work, has built a demand for it as the slow process of FDA approvals progresses.

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