Scientists Have Found Another Way To Safely Treat Peanut Allergies
Who remembers those dreaded immunotherapy shots you might have had to endure during elementary school? You know, the ones where you'd show up to school (perhaps teary-eyed) with an inflamed bicep, all in the hopes of overcoming your allergy to those measly peanuts.
According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, there might be another way to reduce the severity of peanut allergies. The process is called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), and it requires placing a minuscule amount of liquefied peanut protein under the tongue, where it's absorbed immediately into the bloodstream in order to desensitize the immune system to peanuts.
SLIT is another main immunotherapeutic way for scientists to treat nut allergies, similar to the process of oral immunotherapy (OIT). But because this science doesn't require the digestion of peanuts in the body (like its OIT counterpart), SLIT is not only effective for reducing peanut allergies, but it's also a much safer method to do so.
Before you think that this immunotherapy will allow your kids to finally dig in to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, be aware that SLIT isn't meant to completely eradicate the peanut allergy. For now, it's a safe and effective way to keep children safe from accidental exposures in restaurant dishes and food packaging that warns, "manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts." However, some children are so severely allergic, that even minimal exposures like these can trigger an aggressive allergic reaction and sometimes even anaphylaxis.
The lead author of the study, Edwin Kim, M.D., has personal stakes in his own research. "As a parent of two children with nut allergies, I know the fear parents face and the need for better treatments. We now have the first long-term data showing that sublingual immunotherapy is safe and tolerable while offering a strong amount of protection," he says.
Kim actually conducted this study way back in 2011, when he found how SLIT was a safe and effective procedure over the course of one year. Since then, Kim and his team conducted the SLIT study again with 48 children ages 1 to 11 years old for over five years, slightly increasing the amount of liquefied peanut protein given. The results showed that 67% of patients were able to tolerate at least 750 mg of peanut protein without serious side effects, and 25% could tolerate 5,000 mg. For a person who can't even sit next to someone on an airplane who just indulged in a complimentary bag of peanuts, these findings are pretty groundbreaking.
This data also shows that SLIT is just as effective as conventional OIT, with way less side effects. Although the study was relatively small, Kim and his lab plan to publish the results of their new, bigger study with a sample of 55 patients later this year.
"We focus on the idea there is no one perfect drug for food allergy," Kim says in a news release. "There will have to be a lot of shared decisions between physicians, patients, and parents about what method of treatment is best for each patient. We think SLIT could be a good option for a subset of patients."
We know that health is not a one-size-fits-all approach in all verticals (looking at you, functional medicine), and how people respond to peanut allergy treatments is no different. With this science, however, maybe a portion of people can live their peanut-free lives without the fear of always having to have their EpiPens at the ready.
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