KIDS
March 25, 2010

Overcoming Severe Peanut Allergies

Children can become far less dangerously allergic to peanuts through a process of "immunotherapy" which desensitizes them over time.

Peanut allergies in children – or adults – can be range from skin irritation to severe airway constriction (anaphylaxis), which can ultimately be life−threatening. But a new study from researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine finds that over time, carefully monitored, increasing doses of peanuts may provide children with some form of long−term tolerance to the food.

By improving people's tolerance, researchers hope to help those allergic to peanuts avoid severe reactions should they accidentally eat a small amount of peanut product.

However, it should be noted that the goal of this research is not for peanut−allergic people to be able to scarf down handfuls of peanuts. By improving people's tolerance, researchers hope to help those allergic to peanuts avoid severe reactions should they accidentally eat a small amount of peanut product.

In the study, Perry and her team compared peanut−intolerant children (whose average age was four and a half years) on placebo to those who were given “immunotherapy” treatment – slowly escalating amounts of peanut over time. Only a few times did children require medical care due to allergic reactions to the peanut product, and most reactions were mild to moderate, the researchers say. At the end of the desensitization phase, which lasted anywhere from 32 to 61 months, kids in the placebo group were able to consume only about 315 mg of peanuts, while those in the experimental group could ingest about 5,000 mg, which the team says is equal to about 15 peanuts.

To study the longer−term effects of the treatment, the researchers tested the children again four weeks after the initial trial had concluded. All of the children previously given the immunotherapy treatment were still able to tolerate peanut ingestion in the second phase – and the researchers say that these children are still able to consume peanuts regularly at this time.

An earlier study was done in children who were allergic to egg protein [http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/content/asthma/art2604.html]; administering tiny amounts of egg protein over time showed similar effects as in the current study. The results of both studies suggest that the immune system is eventually able to build up tolerance to compounds that formerly initiated a strong immune reaction. Perry also points out that “the immunotherapy work being carried out now shows a lot of potential promise." Of course participants will continue to require close observation to make sure that the effects do indeed last over the very long term.

The study’s findings will be presented at the upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

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