Study: Exposing Infants to Peanuts May Prevent Peanut Allergies

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Early exposure to peanuts may reduce an infant's likelihood of developing a peanut allergy, according to a major new medical study. The research is expected to change the way doctors advise parents. We'll discuss the study and learn how "exposure therapy" is used to treat food allergies.

Show Highlights: Your Allergy Questions Answered

What are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Peanuts?

"Typically food allergic reactions happen within 2 hours, most happen within 30 minutes. So you want to make sure you watch your child and you're not doing this first thing before they go to bed. You want to watch for any sort of hives, which look like little red mosquito bites that itch a lot, or any swelling, breathing trouble, vomiting -- those could all be signs of an allergic reaction. You typically want to introduce new foods when your child is feeling well, so you know that anything that you witness is due to that food introduction."

- Sharon Chinthrajah

There is No History of Peanut Allergies in My Family. Should I Start Giving My 9-Month-Old Peanuts?"

Guests:

Laurence Cheng, assistant professor; chair of the Allergy Dept. of Pediatrics at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital

Sharon Chinthrajah, clinical assistant professor of Allergy/Immunology and Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at Stanford

Gideon Lack, professor of pediatric allergy, Kings College London; lead author of the Learning About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study

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"You could, if [your daughter] really truly has no other risk factors, no eczema, and no known food allergies and you're in a period of introducing foods one by one to make sure you can watch for an allergic reaction. Give peanut butter to babies, so that you?re not actually giving them peanuts, so they have no risk of choking"

- Sharon Chinthrajah

Why Are Peanut Allergies So Prevalent?

"Peanut [allergies] get a lot of notoriety and press because it's highly associated with these severe reactions that cause anaphylaxis. But [egg, milk and wheat allergies] are still really big deals. If you're allergic to milk wheat and/or eggs, imagine trying to go out to eat or even shop at a grocery store."

- Laurence Cheng

What About the Possible Role of Pesticides or GMO's Playing a Part in Peanut Allergies?

"I think in the end that's just not an area that's studied well enough to really be able to understand exactly what the effects of changes in agricultural practices are on food allergies."

- Laurence Cheng

"There hasn't been any great studies to really direct us on that ... Certainly there's been association studies with different chemicals and exposures but nothing on a large scale to really point us in a direction to change practice or really understand the influence of organic foods, GMOs, and different pesticides.

- Sharon Chinthrajah

Can You Treat Kids with Peanut Allergies by Giving Them Peanuts?

"We would not advise that. Currently what you're referring to with oral immunotherapy to peanuts, that is a form of trying to desensitize the child by giving him or her very gradual incremental amounts of peanuts over a long period of time, usually several years. That has been shown to be effective in as much as a large group, about two thirds of children can actually tolerate this and move up to tolerating one or several grams of peanut protein. The only problem is that it seems that this treatment is not permanent and doesn't produce a long lasting effect. So if the children stop eating peanuts they can within a few weeks or months revert to reacting to peanuts again upon exposure. So I would say that is very promising. It's experimental -- one has to find new protocols and new ways of enhancing the efficacy of that treatment and making it more permanent. But at the moment we don't have an established quick clinical treatment for peanut allergy."

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- Gideon Lack

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