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Learning to tolerate a peanut allergy

February 21, 2009 | 12:00 pm

PeanutbagPeanut allergies affect thousands of people and can even produce life-threatening anaphylactic shock in severe cases. With few ways to protect people with a peanut allergy -- other than avoidance -- British researchers have tested a daring new approach to the allergy. They exposed people to peanuts.

The study, published this week in the journal Allergy, was conducted in only four children with peanut allergies. The researchers slowly exposed the children to peanuts over a six-month period, starting with as little as 5 milligrams of peanut protein, which is about one-fortieth of a peanut. Eventually, the children were all able to tolerate up to 10 peanuts (although one child had anaphylaxis during the study and required an adrenaline injection). Though the amount of peanuts tolerated was small, the authors noted, it might protect children who accidentally ingest peanuts hidden in food.

Previous allergy studies have shown people can be desensitized to allergens like pollen and bee stings. But desensitization has never been shown to work with a food-related allergy. The researchers, from Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge, told the BBC that the patients should be able to retain their tolerance by eating a small daily dose of peanut protein. The study is continuing in a larger number of people.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Ken Hammond / Associated Press

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Comments (3)

Thank you, Shari, for this story. I like the title. It does not suggest a cure as many articles have but it does suggest--correctly, I think--that medicine and science may be able to help peanut allergy sufferers tolerate accidental exposure to peanuts. It would be wonderful if this treatment does work over the long term. I look forward to hearing more in the coming months and years. In the meantime, I hope we do not hear of anyone trying to desensitize themselves at home by trying to imitate the results obtained thus far by the doctors in the UK, and I also hope we can continue to promote awareness of the seriousness of peanut allergies (and other food allergies) until this treatment or another is available.

I am delighted to hear of the successful oral desensitisation to peanut, but would draw attention to my letter to the Editor of the Annals of Allergy about two years ago in which I mention a case report in the Lancet in 1908, two years after the word allergy was coined by Von Pirquet, describing successful desensitisation of a boy who was dangerously sensitive to egg by feding him very gradually increasing doses of egg in form of pills. If interested will email these publications to you for information

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