Food allergies can complicate social outings with friends when sufferers must worry about coming into contact with a food they're deathly allergic to. However, an ongoing study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) may have an answer for those suffering from a peanut allergy: A patch called epicutaneous immunotherapy (EPIT), which delivers small amounts of peanut protein through the skin, slowly strengthening the immune system against accidental peanut exposure.

For the study, researchers from the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR) recruited 74 participants from ages 4 to 25 with a peanut allergy, and tested the severity of their allergy by giving them food containing peanuts to eat. Next, each participant was given one of three patches: a high-dose patch with 250 micrograms of peanut protein, a low-dose with 100 micrograms of peanut protein, or a placebo patch. Every day the participants put on a new patch either on their arm or between their shoulder blades.

"To avoid potentially life-threatening allergic reactions, people with peanut allergy must be vigilant about the foods they eat and the environments they enter, which can be very stressful," said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, in a press release. "One goal of experimental approaches such as epicutaneous immunotherapy is to reduce this burden by training the immune system to tolerate enough peanut to protect against accidental ingestion or exposure."

One year later, the researchers tested the volunteers’ responses to EPIT treatment by giving them ten times the amount of peanut-containing foods they were initially given. The low-dose group saw a 46 percent success rate, while 48 percent of the high-dose group was found to be treated successfully with EPIT treatment. Those who were given a placebo patch only saw a 12 percent success rate.

The researchers also found those between the ages of 4 and 11 benefited the most from EPIT treatment compared to those who were ages 12 and older. However, many of the participants experienced itchiness or rashes where they placed the patch on their bodies, but there were no serious reactions reported.

"The high adherence to the daily peanut patch regimen suggests that the patch is easy-to-use, convenient and safe," said Marshall Plaut, chief of DAIT's Food Allergy, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergic Mechanisms Section, in a press release. "The results of this study support further investigation of epicutaneous immunotherapy as a novel approach for peanut allergy treatment."

Following these results, all of the participants were placed in the high-dose group and will remain in the study for another 18 months to continue the EPIT treatment. More studies will be required before this treatment can be approved and used for the public.

Read More: Eating Peanuts During Early Childhood May Reduce Risk Of Developing Food Allergies Later On

Source: Sampson H and Jones S. Peanut Epicutaneous Phase II Immunotherapy Clinical Trial. Clinical Trials. 2016.