Can a Wearable Skin Patch Prevent Peanut Allergy Symptoms?

For a parent who has a child with food allergies, day-to-day living is often a bit more stressful than the norm. Not only do you need to spend more time in the supermarket reading labels, cooking special recipes at home, and following up with doctors, there is also the fear of an allergic reaction. This can mean hours spent talking to teachers and caregivers about emergency care plans, carrying allergy medication at all times, worrying about cross contamination, and of course the fear of the unknown.

For the over 3 million people diagnosed with a peanut allergy, this fear can be paramount, as an anaphylactic response can ensue if exposed to the food allergen. Anaphylaxis is a life threatening condition in which there is difficulty breathing and medical attention is required immediately. In fact, the number of those with nut allergies appears to be on the rise, and with that more episodes of cross-contamination and reactions have been reported. Additionally, about 25-40% of people who are allergic to peanuts are also allergic to tree nuts. 

Being Prepared to Handle a Peanut Allergy

To date, living with a peanut allergy, which is part of the legume family, means one thing: always be prepared. Aside from reading labels and following a peanut free diet, it's critical to have an emergency allergy care plan in place, such as carrying an auto-injectable epinephrine device.

At the first sign of a reaction you must be sure to follow your emergency care plan and seek medical attention.

Those with family members with a peanut allergy have often reported feelings nervous, stressed, and anxious over living with the fears that come with such a serious food allergy.

Preventing Peanut Allergies With a Patch

Until now, the idea of answers to and a cure for a peanut allergy has remained a dream.

 However, one study has created quite the buzz as some exciting progress has been made for those with a peanut allergy. This study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that a wearable skin patch may provide some relief for those with a peanut allergy. While more research needs to be conducted, the information so far is quite exciting and encouraging. 

The results of the study found that nearly half of those treated with the Viaskin Peanut patch for one year were able to consume at least 10 times more peanut protein than they were able to prior to treatment. It seems that those children between the ages of 4 to 11 seemed to experience the greatest benefit, while those over age 12 did not have the same measure of success.

The National Institute of Health is the organization funding this ongoing clinical trial, which uses the patch to raise a person’s peanut threshold. This is done through a skin patch that releases peanut proteins into the skin in the hopes that it will improve the immune system's tolerance of these allergens.

The patch contains sub-clinical doses of the allergen to avoid triggering a strong allergic reaction.

It's important to note that the peanut proteins do not enter the bloodstream, but rather are absorbed by the skin. After one year of study, the results showed that participants who received higher doses of peanut proteins were found to be able to consume more peanuts after a year. The group that was shown to have the greatest amount of tolerance remained the younger participants, who were 4 to 11 years of age.These results are promising but the study is on-going, as the participants will be followed for yet another year and a half.

Is the Patch a Cure for Peanut Allergies?

While this news comes as a great step forward for those with peanut allergies, it needs to be taken with great caution. The patch, if approved by the Food and Drug Administration, will not serve as a cure for peanut allergies, but rather serve as a preventative measure against a reaction. The idea is that by wearing the patch, a person with a peanut allergy will have added protection against exposure to the allergen.

Even if the patch only provides protection against a couple of peanuts, for many this can be the difference between a mild and life threatening reaction. This in itself can provide some sense of relief for parents and kids who are anxious about the day-to-day of living with a peanut allergy.

It is no surprise that this research has created so much attention around the world. With food allergies on the rise, peanuts being among the top eight allergens, and with so many kids affected, the patch may open the door to saving lives and further understanding food allergies.  

Sources:

Middlebrook, Hailey.  Skin Patched May Help Kids’ Peanut Allergies, Study Says. http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/31/health/peanut-allergy-skin-patch/index.html October 31, 2016.

National Institutes of Health.  Skin Patch To Treat Peanut Allergy Shows Benefit In Children. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/skin-patch-treat-peanut-allergy-shows-benefit-children  October 26, 2016.

SM Jones et al. Epicutaneous immunotherapy for the treatment of peanut allergy in children and young adults. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.08.017 (2016).

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