The last few years have been an exciting time for peanut allergy researchers. They’ve learned a lot about how to prevent peanut allergy in babies1—and in response, doctors have updated their advice to new parents.1, 2 Meanwhile, scientists are moving closer to an effective treatment for peanut allergy.3 Here are some highlights from recent research.
Findings of a Landmark Prevention Study
Not so long ago, doctors believed that the best way to prevent peanut allergy was to avoid giving peanut foods to children for the first few years of life. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t work.3
So researchers launched a major study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP)3, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).4 LEAP was designed to find out what happened when peanuts were introduced sooner rather than later.3 The results were eye-opening: Children given peanut foods from infancy through age 5 were 81 percent less likely to develop peanut allergies, compared with those who weren’t given peanuts.3
New Guidelines on Preventing Peanut Allergy
The results were so impressive that NIAID updated its peanut allergy guidelines in 2017.1 The new guidelines state that many children who are at increased risk for peanut allergy should get their first tastes of peanut foods around ages 4 to 6 months.1 Some should have an allergy test first, however.1, 2 If you’re a parent, talk with your pediatrician about what’s best for your baby.2
The guidelines note that whole peanuts or dollops of peanut butter straight from a spoon pose a choking hazard for babies and young children.1 If your pediatrician recommends giving your young child peanut butter, choose the smooth type and incorporate it into another food.2
Oral Immunotherapy: The Next Big Thing?
Researchers are also investigating new ways to treat peanut allergy. In another National Institutes of Health-funded study5, 37 babies and toddlers newly diagnosed with peanut allergy were given oral immunotherapy5, 6—a small amount of peanut protein taken daily by mouth. The amount was increased slowly over time, so the children’s bodies could gradually build up a tolerance to it.6 For comparison’s sake, the study also included a control group of peanut-allergic kids who simply avoided peanuts—the standard way of managing the problem right now.5, 6
After about two and a half years of treatment, nearly 80 percent of children in the immunotherapy group were able to eat peanuts without having an allergic reaction.5, 6 By comparison, only 4 percent of the control group kids were able to successfully do the same.6 This treatment for peanut allergy is still being tested.6 But so far, it looks quite promising.5, 7
Genetic Keys to Unlock Future Discoveries
Scientists are studying genetic influences, too.8 In one recent study, researchers pinpointed six key genes that help drive severe allergic reactions to peanuts.9 Now that these crucial genes have been identified, researchers can begin focusing on them. Who knows? Today’s genetic research could lead to tomorrow’s breakthrough treatment for peanut allergy.8
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