September 2016

Preschoolers Benefit from Peanut Allergy Therapy

Baby waiting for lunch in a garden.
Food allergy affects approximately 5% of children nationwide.

Photo courtesy
filipw/iStock/Thinkstock.

An experimental treatment protected many preschoolers from having an allergic reaction to eating peanut. The promising approach may one day stop peanut allergy in its tracks.

Peanut is one of the most common causes of food allergies. A peanut allergy usually starts in childhood and lasts a lifetime. Allergic reactions to peanut can be mild, but sometimes they’re severe and life-threatening.

Avoiding peanut is the best way to prevent an allergic reaction. But it’s hard to steer clear of peanut. It can be hiding in foods you might never suspect.

An NIH-funded study enrolled 40 young children (about 9 months to 3 years old) who were newly diagnosed with a peanut allergy. The treatment, called oral immunotherapy, involved eating a small amount of peanut protein every day. The daily amount slowly increased over time. The children were randomly assigned to get either a high- or a low-dose treatment. A group of 154 peanut-allergic children who avoided peanut were studied for comparison. 

After about 29 months of treatment, the children stopped eating peanut for 4 weeks before eating peanut again. Overall, almost 80% of treated kids could eat peanut with no allergic response. Only 4% of the control group successfully reintroduced peanut into their diet. Scientists continue to monitor the children to see how long the treatment effects last.

“This study provides critical evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of peanut oral immunotherapy in treating young children newly diagnosed with peanut allergy,” says Dr. Marshall Plaut, a food allergy expert at NIH.

The experimental treatment is still being tested in clinical trials. It should only be given under a doctor’s care. Never give peanut products to a child who has peanut allergy. It could cause a dangerous reaction. 

 

Reference: Early oral immunotherapy in peanut-allergic preschool children is safe and highly effective. Vickery BP, Berglund JP, Burk CM, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2016 Aug 4. pii: S0091-6749(16)30531-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.05.027. [Epub ahead of print]. PMID: 27522159.

Funding: NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); and the Thrasher Research Fund from the Departments of Pediatrics at Duke and UNC.