Researchers in England have found that roughly 80 percent of children with peanut allergies who participated in an experimental treatment were able to build resistance to the allergy and can now safely consume up to five peanuts a day. The treatment? Very low doses of peanut flour administered at safe levels.
If proven effective, the treatment would offer relief from the potentially fatal malady, and constant sense fear of accidental exposure that affects two percent of children and is the most common cause of food-allergy-related death.
It is important to note that the results are not conclusive, and parents are warned not to attempt to administer treatment to allergic children themselves.
Doctors at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge started by giving 99 children aged 7 to 16 with severe peanut allergies a tiny 2-milligram dose of a special peanut flour mixed into their food. Slowly they increased that amount to 800 milligrams. The dose increases were given at a research facility where the children were observed for any dangerous side effects — the most frequent were itchiness in the mouth, stomach pains or nausea. After six months of treatment, more than 80 percent of the children can now safely eat five peanuts at a time.
Peanut allergies are especially dangerous because contact with even trace amounts of the nut could cause severe reactions, ranging from swollen lips to anaphylactic shock. Until now, the only way to avoid allergic reactions has been to strictly avoid all contact with the nut, which easily contaminates other nearby foods. The severity of the allergy has prompted schools to debate whether to ban peanut butter, and some airlines to stop handing out packaged nuts on planes.
Though the results are promising, researchers say they are not yet sure how the treatment will affect long-term tolerance of the nut. The scientists specify that the goal isn't to make children with allergies able to eat peanuts with abandon, but simply to raise tolerance levels so that accidental ingestion won't be so dangerous. And to allow kids like Lena Barden, 12, how has a serious allergy, to eat delicacies packaged in facilities that process nuts. Upon eating her first donut, Lena told NBC that "it was amazing," adding that she "ate the entire pack."