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Peanut allergies: How treatment helps

A girl blows out a birthday candle shaped like a 3 as friends watch.

May 22, 2023—Keeping kids with peanut allergies safe can be stressful. Peanuts or peanut oil can be found in unexpected places, including birthday party treats and restaurant meals. And even a small amount of peanut can trigger anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. That can make routine events for most families high-risk for those with peanut allergies.

There's no cure for peanut allergies, but treatment can help prevent anaphylaxis. And research has found that it may be possible to prevent many kids from becoming allergic in the first place. Here's what to know.

Preventing peanut allergies

Eating peanuts early can reduce the odds of a child developing a peanut allergy. One major study found that early exposure reduced the risk of developing an allergy by 81%.

So when should you start? It depends, says the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Kids at high risk for peanut allergies should start when they are 4 to 6 months old—but only after their pediatrician determines the safest approach.

Children are at high risk of a peanut allergy if they have:

  • Egg allergy.
  • Severe eczema.
  • A sibling with a peanut allergy.

Kids with mild to moderate eczema are also at increased risk for peanut allergy. They may benefit from eating peanut products when they're about 6 months old, after checking with their pediatrician.

Kids with no risk factors for peanut allergy can start eating peanut products at home once they're eating solid foods. Ask your child's doctor about the best way to get started. And never give whole peanuts to babies or young kids—they can choke on them.

Preventing allergy emergencies

A treatment for kids ages 4 through 17 can help keep an accidental ingestion from leading to a life-threatening reaction.

Here's how it works: Kids with a peanut allergy consume a controlled amount of peanut protein powder each day. Exposure to the protein helps desensitize the kids. Over time, it takes a larger dose to cause an allergic reaction.

The peanut protein dose must be taken every day. The first doses and any increased doses must be taken at a medical facility in case kids have a serious reaction. But once a dose is established, the child can take their peanut dose at home.

The treatment does not cure a child's allergy. Kids still need to avoid peanuts and carry epinephrine. But it helps to prevent anaphylaxis if a child accidentally consumes some peanut product—and that can ease parents' concerns.

Research is ongoing

Researchers are working to find treatments that are more effective or easier to stick to. A recent clinical trial reported in the New England Journal of Medicine offered encouraging results.

Researchers tested an immunotherapy regimen that uses a skin patch worn on the child's back, between the shoulder blades. They tested how well it worked on kids with peanut allergies who were ages 1 to 3. They compared kids who used the immunotherapy patch with kids who used a placebo patch.

After a year, 67% of kids with the immunotherapy patch could eat significantly more peanut protein without a serious reaction. That's compared to 33% of kids who received the placebo.

Why did some kids improve with the placebo? Some may have simply outgrown their allergy.

Like the current treatments, the immunotherapy patch isn't a cure. And this new treatment is still being developed and tested. But it's a sign that more treatment options may be on the horizon.

More on food allergies

Learn more about common food allergies in our Allergy health topic center.

Sources

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