Could Immunotherapy Treatments Reduce Peanut Allergy Risk?

At this year’s American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) conference, in San Francisco, a group of scientists revealed that new therapies may soon be available for people suffering from peanut allergies.  A new study shows that eating just a few peanuts after completing sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) or oral immunotherapy (OIT) could actually provide continuous protection from accidental exposure to the dangerous allergen.  

Led by Edwin Kim, the study followed OIT and SLIT intervention trials for peanut immunotherapy at the Chapel Hill campus of UNC. These trials seem to imply that such immunotherapy methods could suffer lower sensitivity to as much as 5,000mg of peanuts. 

It is important to keep in mind that this therapy is not, essentially, a cure.  Instead, it decreases sensitivity to peanuts in a way that reduces the risk of a severe reaction.  People who suffer peanut allergies have to be very careful what they eat, particularly when at a restaurant or other food service establishment.  Many processed foods, for example, are processed or packaged in a facility which may also process or package peanuts.  This means that even the slightest cross-contamination—which most people wouldn’t notice—could be nearly fatal. 

Accordingly, Kim comments, “They don’t necessarily want to eat large amounts of the allergen, they just want to a level of reassurance that if a restaurant cook makes a mistake or a food label is wrong, they won’t have a severe allergic reaction.”

Food allergies have been on the rise, lately, but peanut allergies are among the most severe. And, as you can likely discern, they are also not always easy to anticipate or prevent.  As such, these therapies could help those living with peanut allergies to have more freedom in their daily lives. 

In fact, a large percentage of those involved with the study continued to eat peanuts for up to eight years after completing their initial immunotherapy treatment.  Among those who did still consume peanuts, the median amount of consumption, daily, was 600mg.  What is most important, however, is that no one who had received the therapy reported adverse reactions from accidental ingestions.  A handful of people, though, did comment that they had some allergic reaction after introducing peanuts into their diets. Fortunately, these reactions were quite mild and easy to treat with common antihistamines.  Only five reactions were severe enough to require emergency interventions. 

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