Immunotherapy for Peanut Allergies? Could it work?

The Natural Standard blog recently described new studies showing that peanut allergies improved significantly in children who were given very low doses of peanut allergens and gradually increased those doses over time.

Exposing a person to low doses of a known allergen, a technique called immunotherapy, is not a new concept. The goal of immunotherapy is to desensitize the patient so that the body builds up a tolerance to the allergen. For example, immunotherapy has been used to treat seasonal allergies and vaccine allergies.

Peanut allergy is the leading cause of severe allergic reactions in children and adults in the United States. Even trace amounts of peanut can cause serious reactions in sensitive people.

According to a statement by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 20 percent of patients with peanut allergies naturally outgrow them.

In one study, 15 children received very small, gradually increasing doses of peanut powder, while eight children received a placebo for one year. By the end of the study, children in the peanut group were able to tolerate an average of 15 peanuts before developing allergic responses.

A second study included 12 children who had been treated with peanut powder beginning at 32 months of age and ending at five years of age. One month after discontinuing immunotherapy, the children were given peanuts. Nine of the participants were able to tolerate the peanuts and are now able to include them in their diets.

The findings, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, (and are found in the abstracts of the meeting) support earlier studies, which suggested that immunotherapy may help treat peanut and milk allergies.

Because food allergies can be potentially life threatening, immunotherapy is not recommended for general use — and should still be considered experimental.

So, in the meantime, until the safety of this treatment is tested in a larger population, people with peanut allergies should (1) avoid foods that trigger their allergies. And (2) avoid this experimental therapy — at least for now.

But, it does give us great hope for the future.

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