Stories about: allergy

A new tactic for eczema? A newly identified brake on the allergic attack

baby with eczema
(Arkady Chubykin/Adobe Stock)

Eczema affects about 17 percent of children in developed countries. Often, it’s a gateway to food allergy and asthma, initiating an “atopic march” toward broader allergic sensitization. There are treatments – steroid creams and a recently approved biologic – but they are expensive or have side effects. A new study in Science Immunology suggests a different approach to eczema, one that stimulates a natural brake on the allergic attack.

The skin inflammation of eczema is known to be driven by “type 2” immune responses. These are led by activated T helper 2 (TH2) cells and type 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s), together known as effector cells. Another group of T cells, known as regulatory T cells or Tregs, are known to temper type 2 responses, thereby suppressing the allergic response.

Yet, if you examine an eczema lesion, the numbers of Tregs are unchanged. Interestingly, Tregs comprise only about 5 percent of the body’s T cells, but up to 50 percent of T cells in the skin.

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Breaking the allergic asthma cycle…by targeting nerve endings

asthma therapeuticsExisting asthma medications work by suppressing inflammatory signaling by immune cells or by dilating constricted airways. Over time, though, these drugs’ benefits can wane. New research supports a surprising new tactic for controlling asthma: targeting sensory nerve endings in the lungs with a selective drug.

Our lungs are known to contain specialized sensory neurons known as nociceptors that connect to the brainstem. Best known for causing the perception of pain, nocieptors also trigger the cough reflex in the lungs when they detect potential harms like dust particles, chemical irritants or allergens. Nociceptor nerve endings are known to be more plentiful and more readily activated in people with asthma. Now it’s also clear that they help drive allergic inflammation.

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Trial and error: Solving a rare, hard-to-diagnose GI disease

Eosinophilic esophagitis is often misdiagnosed, and seems to be on the rise. (Images: Gretjen Helene Photography)

As an infant, Cameron Ledin sneezed and rubbed his eyes whenever his mother, Kim, nursed him. His growth was slow, and as he got older, it became clear that he had serious feeding problems. When he was old enough for solid foods, he refused to eat. When he was old enough to speak, he complained that eating hurt his stomach.

Over the years, Cameron saw allergy specialists at Boston Children’s Hospital repeatedly, and every visit ended with more confirmed food allergies. By the time he was 7, Cameron could eat only 25 foods, and his pain and symptoms continued. Multiple tests—for airway, pulmonary and upper digestive tract problems—had inconclusive results.

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Putting the brakes on food allergies could do a body good

This photo contains at least three food allergens. Can you find them? (Photo: bensonkua/Flickr)

About 3 million children in the U.S. have some form of food allergy, ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening. The number of children diagnosed with food allergies is rising: at Children’s alone, the percentage of new patients with food allergies jumped from 14 in 1998 to 46 in 2005.

The numbers don’t really describe what it means for a child to have an allergy to milk or other foods. At age 1, Brett Nasuti was diagnosed with allergies to 15 foods, including milk, nuts, and eggs. “When I was little, I got hives in the shape of my mom’s lips when she kissed me after drinking coffee with just a little milk in it,” he says.

The classic way of addressing a food allergy is through a vigilant avoidance of the food(s) that can trigger an anaphylactic reaction and prompt treatment of reactions when they do occur. That approach got a boost last year from the Massachusetts legislature, which passed a law requiring restaurants to educate their workers and managers about food allergies and print warnings in their menus reminding diners to tell their server about any food allergies in their party.

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