By Jennifer Dorsett
Peanut allergies get a lot of attention, but in reality, less than one percent of Americans are allergic to the legume.
That doesn’t mean a peanut allergy is something to take lightly, however.
Food-induced anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that may cause breathing or blood circulation problems and can lead to death if not treated quickly. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), more than 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.
Less serious but still troublesome symptoms include hives or other skin rashes, itching and swelling around the eyes and gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting or diarrhea.
And extensive research has shown that food allergies impact families’ quality of life.
But researchers have found that introducing peanut foods to infants does reduce their likelihood of developing peanut allergies.
New guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommends parents introduce infant-appropriate peanut foods starting as early as four to six months, depending on the child’s risk for developing a peanut allergy.
While this is great news for parents of babies, what about those children who already have a peanut allergy?
Since 2001, the National Peanut Board has invested more than $32 million into research and education about food and peanut allergies.
That’s because peanut farmers are also mothers, fathers, grandparents and family members who know how it feels to want to do everything they can to protect those they love the most.
And new hope is on the horizon.
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever drug to treat peanut allergies.
The new oral immunotherapy treatment, Palforzia, is approved for use in children ages 4-17 to help mitigate allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Under medical supervision, patients take small, increasing doses of peanut protein to help decrease sensitivity to peanuts over time.
But Palforzia is only the beginning. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service is also hard at work developing a similar treatment, this one in capsule from.
In addition to oral therapies and powders, there’s a peanut allergy patch in the works. The skin patch would deliver the immunotherapy topically, through the skin, which may help those who have tried and stopped oral immunotherapy due to gastrointestinal issues.
It’s an exciting time in the food allergen research community because breakthroughs in peanut allergy treatment may lead to other common food allergy treatments in the future.
And hopefully, someday, all children can be food allergy-free.