New treatment for peanut allergies

May 15, 2013 9:04:56 AM PDT
A new treatment Is helping kids and adults who are allergic to peanuts.

Many times when someone has a food allergy, they live in fear they could be exposed and have a reaction.

This treatment helps alleviate the fear and lessen the allergy.

Samantha Schulte,13, likes playing volleyball with her sister and participating in other team sports.

"Like a lot of my friends play volleyball and lacrosse, which is the reason why I got into it," she said.

But many times, Samantha has to distance herself. She's allergic to peanuts, and being exposed to just a tiny amount can spark a reaction. Her first severe attack happened when she was a toddler. She was given a piece of candy, not knowing it contained peanut butter.

"She got violently sick, she swelled up, she was unrecognizable," her mother, Jennifer Schulte, said.

Now Samantha and her family are very careful to avoid all peanut products. But Samantha is also doing a treatment called sublingual immunotherapy.

Dr. Matthew Fogg of Allergy and Asthma Specialists says it gradually de-sensitizes someone to their allergy.

It starts with a tiny dose of peanut protein extract. Samantha places it under her tongue for two minutes. Then doctors and nurses monitor her in the office for two hours.

"After that, she goes home and she does that same dose once a day at home for the next two weeks," Dr. Fogg said.

Following this schedule, patients gradually increase the dose until they hit the maintenance dose.

Dr. Fogg says it is not a cure. But the goal is to make her safer if she accidentally eats something with peanuts.

"Where before she may have reacted to half a peanut in the cookie, now she can tolerate 5, 6 - in some studies even 7 peanuts without having a reaction," he said.

Samantha's mom says it gives her peace of mind.

Samantha says it will make life easier. "Even on the bus with sports, when people bring snacks, then I can be around them instead of just standing by myself," she said.

The treatment can be done for anyone - child or adult - who has a food allergy and is willing to commit to the time. It takes about four to five months to build up to the maximum dose. It is covered by some insurance plans, but not by all.

Dr. Fogg says the hope is to have this type of treatment for other food allergies as well in the future.