Peanut allergy treatment hope

A promising new study has offered hope of a treatment for people with peanut allergy.

Early results of the study suggest that treatment that slowly builds up tolerance could protect people from having a severe reaction.

Prevalence rising

The prevalence of peanut allergy among children in western countries is on the rise, with the number of children diagnosed in the UK doubling over the past two decades. It is estimated that one in 50 children have peanut allergy.

People who have peanut allergy are at risk of unpredictable and occasionally life-threatening allergic reactions. Symptoms usually occur within minutes of contact with peanuts, and include swelling of the lips, eyes or tongue, vomiting, dizziness, and difficulty breathing.

Accidental exposure

There are currently no treatment options or cure for people with peanut allergy, and so avoiding any foods that may have traces of peanuts in is the only way for people with the allergy to avoid allergic reactions. Peanuts are a common ingredient in many types of food.

If people with peanut allergy are accidentally exposed to peanuts, immediate use of adrenaline medication is needed to treat the symptoms.

Peanut protein powder

This new study held in the US and the UK involved over 500 people with peanut allergy, mostly aged between four and 17. One third were given a placebo (a ‘dummy’ powder) and two thirds were given peanut protein powder in increasing amounts.

After nine to 12 months of treatment, two thirds of the children who had taken the peanut protein powder were able to tolerate as much as two peanuts a day, and half the children could tolerate the equivalent of four peanuts a day.

Milder symptoms

Co-author of the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Stephen Tilles, said: “On average, the participants were able to tolerate a 100-fold higher dose of peanut at the end of the study than they did at the beginning. In addition, the symptoms caused by the 100-fold higher dose at the end of study were milder than the symptoms on the lower dose at the beginning of the study.”

Lifelong protection

The scientists involved in the study think that children would have to continue taking small amounts of peanut protein to remain safe from allergic reactions.

The treatment is now awaiting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, which licences drugs in the US.

As with all allergies, you should never try any home remedies without seeking medical advice first, and you should never treat children yourself for a food allergy unless you have discussed this with your doctor first.

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