Allergy

03 October 2017

How close are we to a cure for peanut allergy?

A peanut allergy is one of the most dangerous food allergies and can be fatal. However, research over the past four years indicates there might be a cure in sight.

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In 2014, a study was published in the Lancet Medical Journal. It was about treating a peanut allergy with exactly the thing that causes the allergy in the first place – peanuts. Does this sound all wrong?

This is an example of immunotherapy, where small doses of peanut powder taken over several months would hopefully induce tolerance in children with peanut allergies.

At the end of this study, 82% of children who received this treatment became tolerant to peanuts, compared with 4% in the placebo group.

Now fast forward almost four years later: those children are still tolerant to peanuts, according to the follow-up data published in August 2017.

While the trial size was small, this development is still a significant breakthrough, and signals that we could be closer to the cure for this allergy.

Why is a peanut allergy so dangerous?

While peanut allergies differ in severity and symptoms, the small amount needed to trigger symptoms, as well as the fact that the affected person can go into anaphylactic shock, makes it an extremely dangerous allergy.

Some researchers believe that peanut allergies were on the rise, mostly because of the increase in processed foods and the tendency of food manufacturers to use peanuts in a wide variety of products. Hidden forms of peanuts or traces of peanuts can be found in factories that process products containing peanuts.

Therefore it’s hard to avoid peanuts since symptoms can be triggered by such a minute quantity – even the smallest dose can trigger deadly symptoms.

Managing a peanut allergy

Although recent research towards a cure for peanut allergy is a great breakthrough, there is still more to be done before a definite cure can be announced.

For now, it’s important to take these steps to properly control a peanut allergy:

  • Educate your child’s caregivers or teachers about the severity of the allergy, as well as the symptoms.
  • Familiarise yourself with other products that might contain traces of peanuts.
  • If you are cooking from scratch, substitute any peanut products for other ingredients that will not trigger the allergy.
  • When dining out, inform the kitchen about the allergy and talk to management about the use of peanuts in the kitchen.
  • While it is said that those with peanut allergies can still consume foods containing highly refined peanut oil, it’s hard to determine the quality of the oil.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies. obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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