New Research Offers Hope for Peanut Allergies

Filed under: Nutrition: Health

A scattering of peanutsStudies suggest that it may be possible to cure peanut allergies -- but parents should not try this at home.

Having a child who is allergic to peanuts has got to be difficult. It's hard enough making sure kids don't eat rocks and sand, small toys and buttons, coins and screws -- it must be doubly hard to make sure they don't eat or, in some cases, even come in contact with something that the rest of the world considers a delicious, healthy food. And yet, for millions of Americans, the delicious peanut can be deadly.

There is, however, hope for those parents who must deal with peanut allergies on a daily basis. The results of two clinical trials have allergists feeling positive about the future of peanut allergy treatment. The studies looked at oral immunotherapy where children with peanut allergies were given miniscule amounts of peanuts; over time, the amount of peanuts the children were given was slowly increased.

Of the children being tested, a number have been able to subsequently eat peanut products without incident, even after the therapy was discontinued. "They're eating peanut candy, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, whatever they want," said Dr. Wesley Burks, a pediatric allergist at Duke University. Still, while these trials look promising and research will undoubtedly continue, it is important to note that this is not something that should be tried at home.

The kids in the studies were given the equivalent of 1/1,000th of a peanut -- even my best knife won't cut pieces that small (even if I could see them). In addition, doctors were on hand "armed with a syringe full of epinephrine to counter any sudden reaction that might occur." So what's a parent to do while waiting for the research to mature into common practice?

According to Pat O'Connor, director of the Wind in the Willows Early Learning Center in San Francisco, children reflect their parent's attitude, so we need to be calm and collected. "It is important," she explains, "to be matter-of-fact about it. Teach children that they have red hair, they have freckles, and that they are allergic to peanuts. Children need to know themselves so that they know to ask, 'does this have peanuts in it?'"

One mom I talked to, whose son is allergic to peanuts, found the studies worrying -- as a nutritionist, she said the therapy is "really dangerous unless you know how allergic the child is." You "definitely can't start it on your own," she added.

Oral Immunotherapy is not new, but success has been limited in the past. It has been tried with penicillin and milk, as well as peanuts, but researchers noted that allergic reactions, including serious ones, were common. While we certainly find these peanut trials encouraging and hope that the researchers continue their work, it's clear that this is not something anyone should try outside of a well stocked medical research facility.

Do you have an allergic child? What are your strategies for keeping your kid safe from stray peanuts?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.