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HealthWatch: Promising New Oral Treatment Gives Hope To Peanut Allergy Sufferers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There has been an important development in the quest to prevent potentially lethal peanut allergies.

It's an oral treatment that helps children with severe peanut allergies withstand exposure to peanuts, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday.

The drug is actually very precise, tiny doses of pharmaceutical grade peanut flour. It's called oral immunotherapy, basically an oral version of allergy shots that millions get for pollen and other allergies.

The idea is to gradually build up a child's tolerance to peanuts.

"I remember the second it touched my lip, my whole body swelled up and I couldn't breathe," peanut allergy patient Josh Mandelbaum said.

Peanut Butter

That was after just a little speck of peanut butter hit Mandelbaum's lip. He survived that crisis thanks to an EpiPen. Today, his mom keeps a strict nut-free home, screening everything Josh eats. Up until recently, the avoidance was the only treatment for peanut allergies.

"Everything requires strategic planning," Lianne Mandelbaum said. "It's very stressful when the crumb of a wrong cookie can kill your child."

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There are 1.6 million children like Josh with peanut allergies, and complete, iron-clad avoidance is a Herculean task because peanuts are everywhere and often hidden in food.

But now a study to be published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine describes an oral immunotherapy that increases peanut tolerance in children. Study volunteers were given small exposures to very small doses of peanut protein, gradually increasing from less than one peanut until 67 percent of the volunteers could tolerate two peanuts.

While an important development, the director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai cautions that this is not a cure.

"This treatment gives kids a safety valve. It's not a cure. It means that if they're accidentally exposed to peanuts, they'll have mild symptoms as opposed to very severe allergic reaction," said Dr. Scott Sicherer of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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Even so, Josh's mother said this is a long-awaited, welcome development.

"This a great thing. It gives us hope that kids like Josh won't have to be terrified that an accidental cookie or stray peanut could be fatal," Lianne Mandelbaum said.

Josh, though, has been on an experimental peanut patch that has increased his tolerance somewhat.. He said he'll stay on the patch.

"It's easier. I don't have to worry about the side-effects," he said.

Not all of the study volunteers improved on the oral treatment and many still had serious side effect. Some even needed an EpiPen rescue. Children using the treatment will have to take it religiously, every day like a medicine. If they stop taking it, the benefit will likely wear off.

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