Controlling Peanut Allergies in Children

After 2½ years, Ryan is one of five children in the study who can eat M&Ms and other foods with peanuts without having a reaction. Four children quit the study because they continued to have allergic reactions; the others haven’t had allergic reactions to the therapy but are not eating peanuts in food. A second, smaller study gave peanut powder to 12 children and a placebo to 6 others. After 10 months, all the children were fed peanuts under medical supervision. The placebo group had allergic reactions after eating a peanut and a half, while the children in the treatment group ate 15 peanuts on average without symptoms.

Ryan now eats peanut products daily to maintain his tolerance. While his mother can’t get him to eat a PB&J, he happily downs peanut butter cookies and other peanutty treats. “Daily is the goal,” Rhonda says.

Caution. Do not try this at home, says Wesley Burks, chief of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke and a director of the studies, which are conducted at Duke and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. It will take two to three more years before the technique is tested enough to be used outside of an experiment. But, he says, the evidence that tolerance can be developed by feeding a child the allergy-causing food, much as it can be instilled by giving people shots of an allergen, generated hope that allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, shellfish, and other foods will soon be much less frightening and managing them much less of a family burden.