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Allergic to peanuts? Oral drops to the rescue

Researchers have come up with a new immune therapy involving liquid drops placed under the tongue that could protect those with peanut allergies from reacting if exposed, according to Science News.


The treatment — sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT — is similar to oral immunotherapy which requires larger doses than SLIT, and other treatments, such as one that builds tolerance by exposing children to peanuts early in life.

Peanuts — which are not actually a nut but a legume — are among the most allergenic of foods. In 1999, less than 0.5% of American children had a peanut allergy. That number had risen to 2% within a decade and has continued to climb. This happened even after parents were warned not to expose their children to peanut products before the age of 3, so that clearly was not the answer.

Research has suggested that exposing children to peanuts at an early age — only under the strict supervision of a knowledgeable doctor — may cut the risk of an allergy by 80% or more by desensitizing their immune systems and boosting their tolerance over time. On the other hand, strictly avoiding peanut products only heightens the risk.

Forty or 50 years ago food allergies were rare, but today an estimated one out of every 13 children has a food allergy. Food allergies can be difficult to detect in young children who are unable to communicate their symptoms, but unexplained crying, diarrhea or rashes can be common signs of allergies.

Many people pooh-pooh food allergies, not realizing that for a growing number of adults and children, such allergies can be deadly.

It’s widely accepted that a bee sting can cause anaphylaxis, a type of severe allergic reaction that can be deadly, but bee stings cause about 40 U.S. deaths a year compared to 100 deaths from food. A food allergy is the most common trigger for anaphylaxis.

In addition to causing itching and swelling of your lips and tongue, anaphylaxis may lead to tightness and closure of your throat along with difficulty breathing that quickly becomes life threatening. 

If you suffer from allergies to food, insect stings, medications or latex and are at risk of anaphylaxis, the most common treatment is an EpiPen, which could save your life.

The EpiPen, which is manufactured by Mylan, contains epinephrine, a synthetic form of the hormone adrenaline that counteracts anaphylaxis. It helps to constrict your blood vessels, which increases your blood pressure and also reduces smooth muscles in your lungs to improve breathing.

Treating allergic reactions — aka EpiPens — is big business. EpiPen sales brought in $1.2 billion in 2015, the culmination of a 461% price increase from 2007 to 2015. The cost of epinephrine in an EpiPen is about $1 but the list price for a two-pack is over $600 in the U.S.

Currently, the treatment for allergic reactions is almost exclusively the EpiPen, but researchers continue to study new treatments, such as oral drops and early exposure, for those with life-threatening allergies.

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