Aditi Kaveti ’23
Peanut allergies affect 6% to 8% of children around the world. Living with severe allergies is extremely dangerous and requires close monitoring of the ingredients in packaged foods and at restaurants. Many packaged products warn that the food was manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts or tree nuts. These trace amounts seem inconsequential, but they can lead to severe allergic reactions. At restaurants, simply ordering the dish without the allergen is not enough. People with severe allergies can face consequences if the allergen is near the meal. The purpose of immunotherapy is not to completely reverse an allergy, but instead to make sure that trace amounts that may be hidden in foods do not trigger severe reactions.
Existing immunotherapies rely on the process of desensitization of the immune system through small amounts of peanut protein. However, ingesting these small amounts of peanut protein may have serious side effects. Patients can go into anaphylactic shock if the amount of peanut protein is too much. A new approach to immunotherapy, called sublingual immunotherapy, uses peanut protein as well, but places it under the patients’ tongues where it is immediately absorbed.
At UNC School of Medicine, a small study of 18 patients demonstrated that sublingual immunotherapy is safe and effective over the course of one year. Researchers then followed 48 patients that absorbed 2 mg of peanut protein daily for five years. They found that 67 percent of the patients could tolerate 750 mg of peanut protein. This study was as effective as other immunotherapies, without the risk of serious side effects. Sublingual immunotherapy provides a long-term solution for children with severe allergic reactions to peanuts. It is a new and safe form of desensitization that protects people from hidden trace amounts of allergens in their foods.
- E. Kim, et. al., Long-term sublingual immunotherapy for peanut allergy in children: clinical and immunologic evidence of desensitization. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, (2019). doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2019.07.30
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