Children relieved of peanut allergies
WASHINGTON - Scientists have the first evidence that life-threatening peanut allergies may be cured one day.
A few children now are allergy-free thanks to a novel treatment: tiny amounts of the very food that endangered them.
Don't try this at home. Doctors monitored the youngsters closely in case they needed emergency care, and there's no way to dice a peanut as small as the treatment doses required.
But over several years, the children's bodies learned to tolerate peanuts. Immune-system tests show no sign of remaining allergy in five youngsters, and others can withstand amounts that once would have left them wheezing or worse, scientists reported yesterday.
Doctors at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital said they must track the children years longer to know for sure whether they are cured.
"We're optimistic that they have lost their peanut allergy," said the lead researcher, Dr. Wesley Burks, Duke's allergy chief. "We've not seen this before medically."
More rigorous research is underway to confirm the pilot study, released yesterday at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If it is confirmed, the approach could mark a major advance in treating an allergy that afflicts 1.8 million people in the United States.
For parents, that would mean no more fear that something as simple as sharing a friend's cookie at school could mean a race to the emergency room.
"It's such a burden lifted off your shoulder to realize you don't have to worry about your child eating a peanut and ending up really sick," said Rhonda Cassada of Hillsborough, N.C. Her 7-year-old son, Ryan, took part in the research and has been labeled allergy-free for two years and counting.
It's a big change for a child who couldn't tolerate one-sixth of a peanut when he entered the study at age 2 1/2. By 5, Ryan could eat a whopping 15 peanuts at a time with no sign of a reaction.
Millions of people have food allergies and peanut allergy is considered the most dangerous, with life-threatening reactions possible from trace amounts. It accounts for most of the 30,000 emergency-room visits and up to 200 deaths attributed to food allergies each year. Although some children outgrow peanut allergy, that's rare among the severely affected.