Food allergies send Americans to the emergency room 30,000 trips each year, according to the FDA. Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soy, eggs, fish, and shellfish are the main culprits. And, in that crew of risk, peanut allergies stand out from the crowd.
Peanuts are believed to cause more deaths from anaphylaxis, an acute allergic reaction that may include constriction of your airways, than any other food allergy.
Two new therapies – a peanut protein powder therapy and the peanut patch – were studied in clinical trials and show promise in the quest to lessen that risk. “While this is encouraging, parents should know that neither therapy is a cure. Their kids still have to avoid peanuts and carry an EpiPen. It’s the incidental exposures to trace amounts that they can protect against,” says Dr. Gary Kleiner, director of pediatric allergy and immunology services at the University of Miami Health System. The clinical trials should result in FDA approval of the therapies by the end of 2019.
Peanut protein powder: This yearlong clinical trial of an oral immunotherapy regimen had the goal of reducing children’s sensitivity to peanut allergens by gradually exposing them to peanut protein over the course of six months, starting with small amounts, given under medical supervision. The dosage was increased as the patient’s tolerance developed.
The results, announced recently at a conference of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Seattle, showed that after six months of treatment followed by six months of maintenance therapy, two-thirds of the 372 children who received the treatment were able to eat the equivalent of two peanuts without developing allergic symptoms. The researchers emphasized that children who complete the treatment need to continue to eat a peanut-free diet and may need to keep up maintenance therapy for the rest of their lives.
Peanut patch: This peanut patch trial also had encouraging results. The amount of peanut a child could consume before he or she had a reaction went from 210 mg of peanut protein at the start of the study to an average of 900 mg a year later in the people receiving the patch. The patch was well-tolerated and easy to use.
Additional approaches to minimize food allergy risk
Dr. Kleiner says UHealth is involved in other food allergy trials and the Food Allergy Network is actively promoting the cause to get pharmaceutical companies involved in finding solutions to food allergies.
“People do not generally outgrow peanut allergies. Parents should know that their kids can lead a normal life; they just have to be vigilant and take advantage of the help that is out there.”
The prevention of food allergies through the introduction of the potential problem food much earlier in the child’s life is garnering a lot of interest. In 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health, stated that having your child consume foods that contain peanuts early may reduce the risk for allergy.
The guidelines recommend parents and clinicians introduce peanut-containing foods to infants after they have begun consuming solid foods:
- Babies at high risk for developing peanut allergy because of a diagnosis of severe eczema or egg allergy should start eating peanut-containing foods at 4 to 6 months.
- Those at moderate risk because of mild or moderate eczema should start peanut-containing foods by 6 months.
- Babies without a diagnosis of eczema or food allergy can be introduced to peanut-containing foods at any time.
Dr. Kleiner recommends these websites for having good resources for parents:
Mary Jo Blackwood, RN, MPH, is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. Based in St. Louis, MO, and Colorado, she has written medical articles and web pages for consumer publications and major university health centers.