If you or a loved one, especially your children, have an allergy to peanuts, you should read the news about a research study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Consortium of Food Allergy Research. It appears the doctors have found a way to significantly decrease and possibly cure peanut allergies using an exposure desensitization method. The method being studied is so effective that children who used to have extreme reactions to even small bit of a peanut can now eat many of them with no allergic reaction.
An estimated 3.3 million Americans suffer from allergies to nuts, including peanuts. The immune system overreacts even to trace quantities of nuts. It can cause anaphylactic shock  that can lead to death without immediate treatment.
The study, now underway, is planned to include a total of 400 children followed over five years. So far, five of the children have reached the stage at which they show no more signs of peanut allergy. Others have significantly lessened allergic reactions, making it unlikely they would have serious health problems from exposure to small amounts of peanuts.
Medical centers involved in this peanut allergy study include Duke University Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Yale School of Medicine.
The therapy works by exposing the children in the study to minute quantities of peanuts, starting with about 1/1000 of a peanut. Over a period of months, the quantities are boosted. After about 4 months, the children are consuming peanut dosages equivalent to about one peanut. Eventually, this exposure therapy seems to train the immune system to lessen or even stop triggering an allergic reaction to peanuts. Some of the children can even eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It is not clear if this allergic reduction will persist for life. Presently, most of the study participants are continuing to take daily doses of peanuts. Years of monitoring will be required to understand the long-term impact of the therapy.
In theory, this type of exposure therapy may work for resolving other allergies, too. Dr. Wesley Burks, head of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke, thinks that this research will assist in developing similar therapies for other food allergies in the next few years.
It is important to note that this therapy should be done under medical supervision with preparation to immediately treat anaphylaxis if something goes wrong. This is not something to try at home, at least not yet.
Dr. Burks thinks that this therapy may be available outside of experimental settings in two to three years. It’s not clear if this will work only for children or may also work for adults with peanut allergies. The current study focuses on children.
In the meantime, if you’ve got a child with a peanut allergy, there is increasing awareness and support available for helping such children safely live with the allergy. We’ve included some links to some well-rated books that might be of help to you and your child.
If you’re interested in more information or participating in Duke University clinical trials related to food allergies, particularly peanut, egg and milk, in both children and adults, you can call (919) 668-1333 or send email to [email protected] .