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Immunotherapy for Peanut Allergy

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Peanut butter was first made by the Aztecs and Incas over 3,000 years ago and was more of a paste and not nearly as creamy as the peanut butter we have today. The Aztecs were Native Americans who lived mostly in Mexico and used the peanut paste to treat toothaches. The Incas were Native Americans who lived mostly in South America and added the peanut paste to a drink made with maize (corn).

Peanut butter did not become popular in the United States until the 1900s - over 110 years ago! Before then, people used to only think of peanuts as animal feed. Four men made the inventions and processes that bring us creamy, smooth peanut butter, including Dr. John Harvey Kellogg - the famous cereal maker!

Even though many people like to eat peanut butter, some people have peanut allergy. Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies people have. Peanut allergy is a reaction that happens when the body mistakenly thinks peanuts are harmful. When someone eats peanuts or food that has peanuts in it, the person’s immune system (the body's natural defense system that fights infections and diseases) overreacts. The overreaction (allergic response) usually happens within minutes after eating or touching peanuts - even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause this to happen.

Many schools and daycares do not allow nuts to be brought in because of the allergy children and adults can have to peanuts.

People who are having a reaction to peanuts can get red, swollen bumps on their skin; itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat; diarrhea, stomach cramps, an upset stomach, or throwing up; a tight feeling in the throat; trouble breathing (cannot catch their breath, or breathe with a whistling or rattling sound in their chest); or a runny nose.

Some people get an allergic reaction to peanuts called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a very serious reaction, and people who get it have to use an EpiPen (a short word for epinephrine auto-injector) right away and then go to the hospital for more care. The EpiPen has medicine in it that is injected (like getting a shot) in the thigh and that stops the most serious reactions for a little while to give people time to get to a hospital.

In January 2020 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a medicine called AR101 (also called Palforzia) to treat peanut allergy in children between 4 and 17 years old. The FDA is a part of the federal government that protects our health by making sure that foods, medicines, and other things that we use every day are safe to use.

Palforzia is a type of medicine called immunotherapy. Immunotherapy helps the body's immune system to better fight infections and diseases. Palforzia is a pill that has very small amounts of peanut proteins inside. Children still should not eat peanuts on purpose, but when they take Palforzia every day, over time it helps to make the peanut allergy not be as bad because the body has built up some resistance to peanuts.

This is great news because if peanuts are eaten by mistake, the allergic reaction will not be as serious - like with anaphylaxis, and this medicine is not an injection (a shot) like the EpiPen. This can also let schools and daycares serve foods with peanuts to kids who do not have peanut allergies because children with allergies will have some protection from the Palforzia if they eat or touch the food with peanuts by accident.

National Peanut Butter Day takes place every year on January 24. Children with peanut

allergy can still celebrate National Peanut Butter Day. Author Sue Ganz-Gwrote a children's book, The Princess and the Peanut: A Royally Allergic Fairytale, to let children with food allergies know they are not alone. In the classic tale, The Princess and the Pea, a queen places a pea under a pile of mattresses to test a princess' claim to royalty.

In The Princess and the Peanut, the royal kitchen is all out of peas, so a peanut is used - only to discover that the princess has a severe peanut allergy. The castle comes together to keep her safe, and a peanut butter loving prince makes a great sacrifice to have her hand.

Review Questions:

1) Do you know anyone with peanut allergy?

2) What are some of the signs of anaphylaxis?

3) How does immunotherapy work?

4) Palforzia approved for what age groups?

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