Peanut Allergy Treatment
There is no cure for peanut allergy and no therapies that eliminate or reduce the severity of peanut allergy. Current treatments only address the symptoms of an allergic reaction once it has taken place, according to The American Peanut Council.
The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut proteins altogether. But peanuts are common, and despite your best efforts, you or your child is likely to come into contact with peanuts at some point.
While most reactions to peanuts are not life-threatening, it's important to be prepared for a severe reaction. For an anaphylactic reaction, an emergency injection of adrenaline (epinephrine) and a trip to the emergency room are necessary.
If your doctor thinks you may be at risk of a severe reaction, you'll probably need to carry injectable epinephrine with you at all times.
Medications, such as antihistamines, may reduce the mild symptoms of peanut allergies. These drugs can be taken after exposure to peanuts to help relieve itching or hives. However, antihistamines are not sufficient to treat severe, life-threatening reactions.
Future of Treatment
Immunotherapy experiments using engineered peanut allergens have been carried out in animals that have been genetically sensitized to peanuts, to see whether the immune response can be ‘dampened’. After mice were treated with a heat-treated bacteria that contained the mutated nut protein, they found that symptoms upon subsequent exposure to nuts were reduced compared with the control mice. In addition, the production of immune markers was less in these mice.
A 2009 Duke University study in which severely peanut allergic children were given small amounts of peanut in increasing amounts to develop immunity, garnered substantial press coverage. A similar Cambridge University study started their subjects on peanut flour and worked their way up to peanuts. Both of these studies reported successful results, however, they were extremely small studies and cannot be considered conclusive. The Duke study involved 33 subjects; the Cambridge study had only four subjects.
Other approaches, which do not include exposure to an allergen, have been tested. One has been trialled involving injecting anti-human IgE (IgE being the main antibody involved in allergic reactions).
- BBC News story on 2009 Cambridge University study
"British study shows promise for peanut allergy treatment" (Reuters, 2009)
- 2009 Duke University study
- Simons F.E., "First-aid treatment of anaphylaxis to food: focus on epinephrine," J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 May;113(5):837-44.
- Burks A.W., "Peanut allergy," Lancet 2008; 371:1538-1546