Food allergies have been on the rise over the years with peanut allergy being one of the most common ones. Given how prevalent the ingredient is, parents face an immense challenge in keeping allergic children safe from accidental exposure.

The reactions can be severe and even life-threatening in some cases. Earlier this year, a 15-year-old girl died after going into anaphylactic shock, caused by the presence of “peanut product” in a cookie she ate.

But now, a new treatment has shown promising results in a clinical trial featuring over 500 people who suffer from the allergy, most of them being children and adolescents. While a quarter of them received a placebo, the rest were given a small amount of peanut protein powder in the form of a capsule.

As they gradually increased the dose over the course of a year, a majority of the participants were able to build some degree of tolerance against the allergen. This method of allergy treatment is known as oral immunotherapy. 

But caution was advised by Dr. Jay Lieberman, co-author of the study and vice chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Food Allergy Committee. The desensitization was only meant to protect against unintended exposure. In other words, it is not a cure which can make the allergy disappear.

"This is not a quick fix, and it doesn't mean people with peanut allergy will be able to eat peanuts whenever they want," he said. "But it is definitely a breakthrough."

When the trial began, most of the patients were unable to tolerate anything more than 10 mg of peanut protein. But by the end of the trial, half of them could tolerate up to 1000 mg, a near equivalent to the amount found in four peanuts. Overall, two-thirds were able to tolerate the equivalent to two peanuts.

Aimmune Therapeutics, the company which funded the study and made the peanut powder capsules, will apply for FDA approval in December 2018. Currently, there are no approved treatments available to treat peanut allergy, 

"The hope would be to have a treatment available in the second half of 2019," Dr. Lieberman added. "If that happens, people who receive and are able to tolerate this treatment should be protected from accidental exposures."

If approved, treatment would be made available by prescription. The patient will have to remain on the treatment as stopping it will also put an end to the protective effect.

It is dangerous to attempt this at home without medical supervision as one could risk a severe reaction. Only medical professionals can monitor doses and intervene if a patient experiences side effects during treatment. The capsule, of course, is crucial to know exactly how much of the allergen is being consumed.