Improving the safety of oral immunotherapy for food allergy

Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2016 Mar;27(2):117-25. doi: 10.1111/pai.12510. Epub 2015 Dec 22.


Food allergy is a major public health problem in children, impacting upon the affected individual, their families and others charged with their care, for example educational establishments, and the food industry. In contrast to most other paediatric diseases, there is no established cure: current management is based upon dietary avoidance and the provision of rescue medication in the event of accidental reactions, which are common. This strategy has significant limitations and impacts adversely on health-related quality of life. In the last decade, research into disease-modifying treatments for food allergy has emerged, predominantly for peanut, egg and cow's milk. Most studies have used the oral route (oral immunotherapy, OIT), in which increasing amounts of allergen are given over weeks-months. OIT has proven effective to induce immune modulation and 'desensitization' - that is, an increase in the amount of food allergen that can be consumed, so long as regular (typically daily) doses are continued. However, its ability to induce permanent tolerance once ongoing exposure has stopped seems limited. Additionally, the short- and long-term safety of OIT is often poorly reported, raising concerns about its implementation in routine practice. Most patients experience allergic reactions and, although generally mild, severe reactions have occurred. Long-term adherence is unclear, which rises concerns given the low rates of long-term tolerance induction. Current research focuses on improving current limitations, especially safety. Strategies include alternative routes (sublingual, epicutaneous), modified hypoallergenic products and adjuvants (anti-IgE, pre-/probiotics). Biomarkers of safe/successful OIT are also under investigation.

Keywords: children; food allergy; oral immunotherapy; quality of life; safety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Anaphylaxis / etiology
  • Anaphylaxis / prevention & control*
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Desensitization, Immunologic*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / complications
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Food Hypersensitivity / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Quality Improvement


  • Allergens