Peanut Allergy Desensitization: Not Ready For Prime Time

February 23, 2010

There has been a great deal of press over the last few days about a study out of England researching the effectiveness of oral immunotherapy at reducing the allergic sensitivity of children with peanut allergy.  In this study children with peanut allergy were given increasing oral dosages of peanut protein in a controlled way over time.  The technique is called oral immunotherapy and is an oral version of standard allergy shots used to treat allergic sensitivity to things like dust mite and pollen.  Researchers found that 21 of 23 children receiving oral immunotherapy in the study were able to eat at least five peanuts a day without developing a reaction to them.

This is really great news, though this is not the first study to look at oral desensitization therapy for peanut allergy.  Other similar studies have been done in the past several years.  One study out of  Duke University was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology last March.  It showed that 4 of 9 children receiving controlled amounts of peanut protein on a daily basis for 2 1/2 years could safely eat peanuts in an uncontrolled way without developing any reaction.

It is important for parents and children to understand that this form of therapy for peanut allergy is still experimental and should not be done outside of a research setting in a hospital.  Not all studies researching this approach have been successful, and there is a real potential for severe allergic reactions utilizing this approach.  We still need to understand more about how this technique works and what aspects of the exact protocol used in the above study are responsible for its success.  There is a lot more research that needs to be done before even the most highly trained and experienced allergist can consider doing this out of his office.  And, a parent should absolutely not do this at home.  It is simply too dangerous and there are too many unknowns.

For now, people with peanut allergy need to avoid peanuts at all times.  That is the most appropriate treatment.  Ten to  20% of children with peanut allergy do outgrow the allergy and there are tests available to determine if your child has potentially outgrown peanut allergy.  You can work with your allergist to determine if this is the case and discuss whether or not your child is a candidate for an oral peanut challenge in the controlled setting of the doctor’s office or hospital.

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One Response to “Peanut Allergy Desensitization: Not Ready For Prime Time”

  1. Sharon Bar-Lev Says:

    Excellent information!


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