A promising new study published in Lancet offers hope for parents of children with peanut allergies. Of the 85 children given small amounts of (increasing over time) peanut protein daily, 84 percent were able to ingest peanuts after six months. Can exposure to peanut protein really help your child, and would you be willing to take the risk?
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As a mom of two children with potentially life-threatening food allergies, I always have my guard up. They never eat cake at a birthday party. They do not share food with friends. We pack snacks for play dates and perform extensive research before trying a new restaurant. Most of the time, we actually stick to places that we know are safe. When a tiny piece of a tree nut has the potential to take your child’s life, you just don’t take chances. My only saving grace in all of this is that they are not allergic to peanuts. Between them, they have over 20 food allergies, but peanuts are not on the list.

Peanut allergy affects up to 1.4 percent of children in affluent countries and is the most common cause of severe and life-threatening allergic reactions.

Peanut allergy affects up to 1.4 percent of children in affluent countries and is the most common cause of severe and life-threatening allergic reactions. It also causes incredible stress for children and families. Peanut butter is a staple among the elementary school crowd. While some schools have banned peanuts and any products containing peanuts for the safety of peanut allergic children, many have not. Every time a peanut allergic child is around peanuts, that child is potentially at risk. As a mom of tree nut allergic kids I can understand the stress that accompanies these allergies. Every drop off feels like a leap of faith.

Promising results

There is some good news on the horizon for peanut allergy sufferers, however. A recent study published in Lancet shows that small exposures to peanut protein over time can help children tolerate peanuts without a severe reaction. Half of the children in this study, all between the ages of 7 and 16, were given peanut flour mixed with their food. They were initially given small amounts of the peanut protein, and gradually increased the amount of protein over a six-month period. The other half of the children in the study avoided peanuts as usual (the control group).

Sixty-two percent of the children given the peanut protein tolerated the equivalent of five peanuts a day.

By the end of six months, 84 percent of the children given peanut protein were tolerating 800 milligrams a day without a significant reaction. Sixty-two percent of the children given the peanut protein tolerated the equivalent of five peanuts a day. The control group was later tested with peanut protein and experienced similar results.

This study provides hope for parents of peanut-allergic children, as it shows that oral immunotherapy can be effective. Researchers were careful, however, to point out that oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy needs further study.

Evaluate risks

Avoiding exposure to peanuts is a full-time job. Between school snacks and lunches, birthday parties, field trips, summer camps and restaurants and bakeries, there are endless opportunities for children to come in contact with peanuts. As much as we don’t want our children to live in fear of their allergies, we do have to train them to avoid any unknown foods and to always ask an adult that knows their allergies prior to ingesting foods not provided by their own parents. The risk is simply too great to take a chance on a brownie that might contain peanut oil.

As anxiety producing as the day-to-day management of food allergies can be for parents, oral immunotherapy can also trigger feelings of anxiety and worry. There is a good reason that medical professionals warn parents not to try exposures at home. Reactions can occur, even in a controlled environment.

It’s important to consider the temperament of your child when considering any oral immunotherapy for food allergies. When a child has been trained to avoid certain foods, they often become fearful about unknown foods. If your child is a worrier by nature, exposing her to something that triggers fear has the potential to trigger panic and/or excessive anxiety.

Be informed

Different medical professionals have different views on how to best handle food allergies for children. A second, and even third, opinion is always a good idea. Ask questions about the specifics of each food allergy so that you know what to expect. Gather as much information as possible about oral immunotherapy so that you can make a decision that best suits your child and family.

As a parent of a child with food allergies, it’s vital to be informed about your child’s food allergies. Know what signs to look for in an allergic reaction, what foods and personal care products (lip balm can contain nuts and/or soy) to avoid, how your child might describe an allergic reaction and when and how to properly use epinephrine. Your child might not be able to remember or describe all of the information to other adults. It’s up to you to make sure that people caring for your child know what to expect, what to avoid and how to help.

As a mom of kids with food allergies, I’ve received more than one eye roll in response to my incessant questions about ingredients. I’ve learned to leave the party before the cake to avoid tears of feeling left out and I bring my own food just about everywhere. I’m not sure how I would feel about exposures via oral immunotherapy right now, but this research gives me hope that there will come a time when food allergies are no longer fatal.

For more information on understanding and managing food allergies, please visit Food Allergy Research & Education.

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