New Study Gives Hope to Toddlers with a Peanut Allergy

This is great news for parents with young children who are allergic to peanuts.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Photo taken in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

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Photo taken in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

Photo by: Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali / EyeEm

Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali / EyeEm

It’s estimated that over 6 million people in the US are allergic to peanuts. Parents with children who have this dangerous allergy know that if their kids eat foods that contain peanuts, it could lead to serious allergic — and possibly life-threatening — reactions. However, a new study is giving hope to the millions of parents whose toddlers are allergic to peanuts.

A study out of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that children between the ages of one and four with peanut allergies were able to safely consume around 15 peanuts after being treated with sublingual immunotherapy.

So, what is sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)? SLIT is an alternative way to treat allergies. Rather than children receiving allergy shots (which can be painful and scary for younger children), they put a small tablet that contains allergen extract under their tongue for one to two minutes, and then they swallow it. All of this is done in a doctor's office so the doctor can observe any adverse reactions.

“What we are seeing is super-promising,” says lead study author Dr. Edwin Kim. “We observed significant desensitization in toddlers with peanut allergy.”

For the study, 50 children with peanut allergies (between the ages of one and four years old) were divided into two groups. One group received the SLIT extract containing 4 mg of peanut protein daily, while the other group received a placebo. Researchers followed the participants over a three-year period.

Dr. Kim added that in the past, SLIT was used to treat older kids and adults, and the results of this study are quite promising for younger patients. He explained that with toddlers, there’s always concern about reactions “because they can’t tell us if they don’t feel right. They can’t verbalize a lot of things.” Despite that concern, the risk of side effects with SLIT appears to be lower and the potential benefits are worth exploring more.

Dr. Kim emphasized that this study's results are encouraging. He and his colleagues hope to explore how SLIT can help children even younger than one become desensitized to their peanut allergy.

For years, pediatricians discouraged parents from feeding their babies and toddlers peanuts as a way to reduce the risk of peanut allergies. However, after a number of studies, these guidelines have changed. In fact, they have done a complete reversal. Now, parents are encouraged to give their babies foods that contain peanuts early on and often to prevent allergies. So, if your baby is six months or older and they're able to begin consuming peanut products, doctors recommend thinning out peanut butter with water and offering it to your baby.

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