There's no definitive treatment for peanut allergy, but desensitization is showing promise. Desensitization involves giving children with peanut allergies increasing doses of peanut flour or peanut extract over time. Studies have shown promise in desensitizing children to peanuts. More study is needed.
In the meantime, as with any food allergy, treatment involves taking steps to avoid the food that causes your reaction, learning what steps you can take to relieve minor symptoms, and knowing how to spot and respond to a severe reaction.
Being prepared for a reaction
The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut products altogether. But peanuts are common, and despite your best efforts, you're likely to come into contact with peanuts at some point.
- For a minor allergic reaction, over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines may help reduce symptoms. These drugs can be taken after exposure to peanuts to help relieve itching or hives. However, antihistamines aren't enough to treat a severe allergic reaction.
- For a severe allergic reaction, you may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Twinject). This device is a combined syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh.
Know how to use your autoinjector
If your doctor has prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector:
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- Carry it with you at all times. It may be a good idea to keep an extra autoinjector in your car or in your desk at work as well.
- Always replace it before its expiration date. Out-of-date epinephrine may not work properly.
- Ask your doctor to prescribe a backup autoinjector. If you misplace one, you'll have a spare.
- Know how to operate it. Ask your doctor to show you. Also, make sure the people closest to you know how to use it — if someone with you can give you a shot in an anaphylactic emergency, he or she could save your life.
- Know when to use it. Talk to your doctor about how to recognize when a shot is needed. For a mild allergic reaction to peanuts, it may be OK to go to straight to the emergency room without using an autoinjector. However, if you're not sure whether the reaction is severe enough to warrant a shot, it's usually better to err on the side of caution and use the emergency epinephrine.
- Peanuts. Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. http://www.foodallergy.org/page/peanuts. Accessed March 4, 2012.
- Food allergy: An overview. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/research/Pages/ReportFoodAllergy.aspx. Accessed March 4, 2012.
- Husain Z, et al. Peanut allergy: An increasingly common life-threatening disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2012;66:136.
- Finkelman FD. Peanut allergy and anaphylaxis. Current Opinion in Immunology. 2010;22:783.
- Tintinalli JE, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6358201. Accessed March 4, 2012.
- Hay WW, et al. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Pediatrics. 20th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6589316. Accessed March 4, 2012.
- Pansare M, et al. Peanut allergy. Current Opinion in Pediatrics. 2010;22:642.
- Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: Summary of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel report. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/clinical/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed March 6, 2012.
- School guidelines for managing students with food allergies. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. http://www.foodallergy.org/page/food-allergy--anaphylaxis-network-guidelines. Accessed March 6, 2012.
- Peanut allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Types/food-allergies/types/Pages/peanut-allergy.aspx. Accessed March 6, 2012.
- Kim EH, et al. Sublingual immunotherapy for peanut allergy: Clinical and immunologic evidence of desensitization. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2011;127:640.
- Stahl MC, et al. Potential therapies for peanut allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2011;106:179.
- Varshney P, et al. A randomized controlled study of peanut oral immunotherapy: Clinical desensitization and modulation of the allergic response. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2011;127:654.
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