Breakthrough Treatment for Children with Peanut Allergies

First Posted: Jan 30, 2014 11:03 AM EST

Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, with approximately 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18 suffering from the potentially deadly health issue. For some children in particular, peanut allergies are a particularly dangerous issue, and unfortunately, scientists still haven't discovered a way to beat the allergy. However, they have found that oral immunotherapy (OIT) may be a safe and effective way to help combat the problem.

"To our knowledge, our findings provide the first well controlled and accurate estimate of the effect size, benefits and risks of desensitization with peanut OIT," wrote Katherine Anagnostou, one of the researchers, via an interview with MedScape. 

This therapy uses small doses of peanut powder over the span of several months. During this time, children may be able to build-up a tolerance to the potentially deadly allergy, according to the AFP. In fact, statistics show that after six months of treatment, 84 to 91 percent of children in the trial could safely tolerate 800 mg of peanut powder or the equivalent of five peanuts.

"This made a dramatic difference to their lives," said Dr. Andrew Clark of the University of Cambridge in Britain, who led the research, via CBS News. "Before the study, they could not even tolerate tiny bits of peanuts and their parents had to read food labels continuously." 

If a child carries a peanut allergy, the therapy certainly isn't used so that they can start regularly eating large amounts of peanuts. However, it could help them build up a tolerance in the hopes of preventing a life-threatening allergic reaction if trace amounts are consumed.

In an accompanying commentary, Matthew Greenhawt of the University of Michigan described the study's results as "exceptionally promising" but predicted that the treatment was still "years away from routine clinical use." 

The study notes that approximately a fifth of the patients involved also reported mild side-effects. The most commonly experienced was oral itching, with nausea. Thirty-one of the patients also reported vomiting and one reported diarrhea, in addition to 41 who experienced wheezing.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal, The Lancet

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