Peanut allergy may be tamed

Published 10:34 pm Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Growing up in Suffolk — home of Planter’s Peanuts and long known as Peanut City — might not have been one of the easiest things for someone with a peanut allergy. But there may good news on the horizon.

A recent study has shown gradual exposure to peanuts can desensitize children and lead to significant long-term changes in allergic reactions either resulting in immunization or a decrease in severity of reactions.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has found that some people with food allergies can develop a tolerance over time through the use of certain oral therapies.

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Those immunization techniques have been explored by a team of physicians to improve peanut allergies in peanut allergic children.

According to the AAAAI, more than three million people in the United States are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both. The reaction can be anything from a minor irritation to a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Even people who only have a mild reaction at first, are at risk for more serious reactions in the future.

The Food and Drug Administration estimates that food-related anaphylaxis results each year in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths.

While many children grow out of other types of allergies later in life, most children do not outgrow their peanut allergies, experts say. The current treatment is to avoid foods containing peanuts or carry epinephrine for self-injection in the event of exposure.

The study — conducted among a small group of children by Duke University Medical Center and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital — showed that gradually immunizing children resulted a 93 percent desensitization of children who completed more than eight months of therapy. Five of the 29 children who saw improvement with the therapy were then able to eat peanuts without negative reactions.

Under the oral desensitization program, a doctor gives the allergic patient gradually increasing amounts of peanuts each day — starting with an amount of peanut powder smaller than could be cut by hand.

The method can only be carried out by a doctor, and it still carries some risks, experts say.

“The authors also noted that several immunological mechanisms specific to peanut allergy were modified over the course of 18 months and resulted in significant long-term immunologic changes,” it stated.

If studies progress and the treatment is made widely available, it will open up a world of food and decreased danger to people with peanut allergies.