Peanuts are one of the most common of foods to cause an allergic reaction, in both children and adults. This means that the body’s immune system is unnecessarily over- reacting to a molecule within the food, and typical symptoms can include itching, a rash, swelling, vomiting and diarrhoea. In severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which has symptoms including swollen lips and difficulty breathing, and can be fatal.
The results of a recently published clinical trial however, could mean hope for the sufferers of this allergy. The treatment being tested in this instance was oral immunotherapy, which has been trialled in the past in the case of other allergies with promising results. Participants between the ages of seven and sixteen years, were given doses of peanut protein to take everyday, with the quantity increasing every two weeks (under medical supervision in a specialist facility).
Participants were hypersensitive to peanuts, and had previously showed an immediate response when exposed. The starting amount was well below the threshold for an allergic reaction, but by the end of six months, the group were taking the equivalent of 5 peanuts a day. This concluding dose was reportedly tolerated by 84% of the participants. All tests for sensitivity were conducted by double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge.
This is not a definitive solution to the problem. It is estimated that doses of peanut protein would have to continue to be taken for years after this sort of initial stage of treatment in order for desensitisation to continue. However, it is a brilliant step in the right direction. Quality of life was also measured within this study and was shown to increase upon the participant’s decreased sensitivity to peanuts.
The reality is that sufferers of the allergy have to constantly watch what they eat, fearing that traces of peanut will accidentally slip into their diet. Over half of peanut allergy sufferers also have an adverse reaction to some other nuts, and so many would still, even with immunotherapy such as this, not be able to completely let their guard down. There are, however, still a lot of people for whom treatment such as this would make life a lot easier. For the time being though, more research needs to be done.