Don't try this yourself, though. It takes special products, a year or more, and close supervision because severe reactions remain a risk, say doctors involved in the study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This experimental therapy can safely be done only by properly trained physicians," said a statement from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the federal agency that sponsored the study.
It didn't work for everyone, and some dropped out of the study because of allergic reactions. But the results "really do show there is promise for future treatment" and should be tested now in a wider group of kids, said the study leader, A. Wesley Burks, chief of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
More than 2 percent of young children have egg allergies, suffering wheezing and tight throats or even life-threatening reactions, Burks said. Many will outgrow it by age 4 or 5, and more will by the time they are teens, but 10 percent to 20 percent never do. The big worry is that these children will eat eggs as an ingredient in a food they don't realize contains them and have a severe reaction. Training children's immune systems to tolerate even small amounts of egg to prevent that was the goal of the study.
It enrolled 55 children ages 5 to 18. Forty were given tiny daily amounts of powdered egg white, the part that usually causes the allergy. The other 15 were given cornstarch - a dummy treatment - for comparison. The amounts were increased every two weeks until children in the treatment group were eating about one third of an egg a day.
They periodically went to their doctors to try eating eggs. They failed the test if the doctors could see any symptoms, such as wheezing.
At about a year, none receiving the dummy treatment passed the egg challenge. Those on the egg white powder fared better.
"At the end of the year, half of them passed. At the end of two years, 75 percent of them passed," Burks said.