Controlling Peanut Allergies in Children

By Nancy Shute
Article Courtesy of U.S. News & World Report

A peanut allergy is terrifying: Eating even a tiny bit of peanut can spark a fatal reaction, and up until now, the only way to avoid that fate was to never eat the legumes, which lurk in thousands of processed foods. Of the 150 deaths each year from food allergies, half are caused by peanuts, and most of those deaths happen in teenagers and young adults. That’s why two new reports on an experimental treatment for peanut allergy are good news. They offer the possibility that some kids will be able to “outgrow” peanut allergy, as well as dangerous allergies to such foods as eggs, milk, tree nuts, and shellfish.

Ryan Cassada can now eat peanut M&Ms and peanut butter cookies, thanks to being one of the 33 children to try the experimental therapy. Ryan’s parents signed him up for the study at Duke University Medical Center when he was 2½. “I was a little bit nervous about it,” says Ryan’s mother, Rhonda Cassada, because the treatment involved feeding peanuts to Ryan daily. “We decided if we could give our child a chance of getting over this allergy, it could potentially save his life one day.”

At first, Ryan was fed trace amounts of peanut at the hospital. Doctors closely monitored him so they could administer drugs at the first sign of a reaction. All he got was a stomachache, so the Cassadas were sent home to Hillsborough, N.C., with instructions to give him measured amounts of peanut flour daily. Rhonda hid it in chocolate pudding and blueberry muffins and gradually increased the dose in keeping with doctors’ recommendations.