Docs tackle peanut problem

By John Pastor • Published: March 20th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Spread the word: Peanut allergies are a nut that allergy doctors may yet crack.

In the world of food allergies, peanuts lead the pack, with shrimp and eggs trailing as a distant second and third.

About six out of every thousand people are so sensitive to peanuts their only recourse is to avoid them altogether … or face severe reactions.

Hives and itching are the least of the symptoms. At the extreme end, anaphylaxis can cause the throat to swell and blood pressure to plummet. It could kill.

The problem is peanuts are used in a variety of food-processing facilities and are common ingredients in soups, sauces, cereals, salads, desserts and candy. Peanut butter allegedly tastes great with chocolate. And it is very hard to avoid.

Now, in carefully supervised conditions, researchers are exposing people with peanut allergies to tiny amounts of peanut powder underneath their tongues in an effort to desensitize them.

The goal of therapy is not to introduce people to the pleasures of peanuts, but to protect them from becoming deathly ill in case they are accidentally exposed.

Because peanut allergies are so dangerous, great care is taken to tailor a tolerable dose.

After 44 weeks of daily therapy, 14 of the 20 participants could tolerate 10 times more peanut powder than they could when they started.

After 68 weeks, gains for the volunteers taking the immunotherapy were even higher, with minor side effects, such as itching inside the mouth.

Doctors from National Jewish Health in Denver and the University of North Carolina led the study.

But take heed, the treatment is far from being ready for prime time and definitely should not be experimented with at home because of the risks.

If you are allergic, remember, peanuts are dangerous … in or out of a nutshell.