• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

New peanut allergy treatment shows promise

December 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Twelve million Americans suffer from food allergies. More than three million of them are allergic to peanuts. While there are drugs to treat an allergic reaction, there's nothing that can fix food allergies for good. Now, doctors are using peanuts themselves to treat allergies. The goal is to cure the potentially life-threatening condition. Severe peanut allergies have made 9-year-old Noah Schaffer feel like an outsider.

"I had to sit at a different table than other people because they had peanut butter, and I couldn't sit by my friends," said Schaffer.

His mom worried more about his health than his popularity. Just one-tenth of a peanut would cause a violent reaction.

"His lips swelled. His ears swelled up. His eyes started to close up, and he started to get hives all over his body," said Noah's mom, Robyn Smith.

Noah enrolled in a Duke University study to retrain his immune system. The new treatment mixes a tiny amount of peanut powder -- about one-thousandth of a peanut -- into a child's food. Gradually, they increase the dose over time.

"We see the first changes to the immune system happen about six months into treatment and then further changes happen beyond a couple years of the treatment," said Dr. Wesley Burks, Duke University Medical Center.

In the 40 year study, 89-percent of the kids with severe peanut allergies could eat up to 15 peanuts. Twelve percent had to drop out because they couldn't handle the treatment. And in another part of the study, another 25-percent lost their peanut allergies altogether. Noah is one of the success stories.

"He was able to eat 40 peanuts, two tablespoons of peanut butter, plus peanut produce, and he had no reaction whatsoever," said Smith.

Now he keeps his immunity up by eating a daily dose of his favorite peanut butter treat. It is has been a life-changing experience for Noah Schaffer and his family.

Researchers have a warning for parents. This was a medically-supervised study, and parents should not try the approach at home. The studies are ongoing.

Duke University researchers believe there will be a treatment for peanut allergies in the next two or three years.

Web Extra Information:

FOOD ALLERGIES:

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy is an immune system response to a food the body thinks is harmful. The digestion of some foods can trigger a sudden release of chemicals that act to fight off the poisonous food. Scientists estimate 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies a year, which is approximately one in 25. Individuals may be allergic to any food, but eight foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions. These are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Duke Medicine News reports peanut allergies are the leading cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction that constricts the airways and lungs. About 100 adults and children die each year because of peanut allergic reactions, and the allergy also accounts for 15, 000 emergency room visits a year.

SYMPTOMS OF FOOD ALLERGIES:

Symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some mild symptoms include rashes, hives, itching and swelling. Some severe symptoms include trouble breathing, wheezing and loss of consciousness. Symptoms may also include a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and throat, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and a drop in blood pressure. Usually, symptoms appear within minutes to two hours after the food is consumed.

TREATMENTS:

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network says that you should avoid the allergy-causing food to avoid any harmful reactions. A key to avoiding reactions is to read the ingredient labels for all foods, and if the product doesn't have a label, do not eat the food. Currently, there are no medicines that can cure food allergies, but research shows many people outgrow their allergies except in the cases of peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, which are considered lifelong allergies. If an allergic reaction is severe, one may treat it with Epinephrine, also know as adrenaline. Epinephrine is available by prescription as a self-injectable device, EpiPen or Twinject.

PEANUT THERAPY AT DUKE UNIVERSITY:

Investigators at Duke University are conducting research on children who have peanut allergies. Researchers are looking at exposing kids to the foods they are allergic to, to determine if it will help build tolerance. The study involves a medically supervised exposure to increasing amounts of peanut flour. Researchers have found that the immune system no longer attacks the peanut flour, but rather ignores it after a period of time.


Load Comments