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Newly approved peanut allergy pill for children: How does it work?

'Peanut pill' offers hope to allergy sufferers
'Peanut pill' offers hope to allergy sufferers

Peanut allergy impacts roughly one million U.S. children, and only one in five children will outgrow their allergy.

Now, a new treatment, designed to help children with peanut allergy, was just recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The medication comes in the form of a pill, and is designed to build up a tolerance for small amounts of accidental exposure to peanut.

“This is actually the first therapy for food allergies of any kind, and it’s directed only at peanut,” said Dr. Sandra Hong, of Cleveland Clinic. “It has measured out amounts of peanut flour, or peanut protein, and you take doses in slowly increasing amounts.”

The treatment is approved for children ages 4 to 17.

The medication comes in a capsule pill that can be opened up for children who can’t take pills -- it can even be added to foods.

Hong said the medication is designed to provide a ‘safety net’ in the event of accidental exposure -- it’s not a license to start eating peanut products.

“The idea is to, hopefully prevent something from happening -- it’s not a cure in any way,” she said.

Hong said children who take the medication would still need to carry an epinephrine pen and practice avoidance measures.

The first dose of the medication is administered in a doctor’s office. A child would then need to see their doctor every time the dose increases (which is every two weeks), until reaching a maximum dose at about six months.

Because the medication contains peanut, it can create reactions and therefore, some anxiety, so Hong said it’s not a good option for everyone.

“When these individuals go on it, they need to stay on it for at least months, maybe years, may indefinitely,” she said. “At this point in time, we don’t know the timeframe that people will be able to have developed a tolerance to the foods, we just know that they need to continue on it.”

Hong said studies performed on this drug show that when people stay on the same dose, their tolerance for peanuts grows over time.

In addition to being able to tolerate some peanut exposure, when people did have reactions, they were less severe.

And while the pill isn’t a cure for peanut allergy, Hong said it may provide a bit of security to children and give them better quality of life.

“Now, maybe they don’t have to eat at the peanut-free table,” she said. “Maybe they can go to that party where there’s cake, and not be worried about it. And, maybe kissing that person wouldn’t be so scary anymore, because you’re worried that they may have eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a couple of hours beforehand.”