There's been a lot of buzz in the last couple years about a peanut patch that may offer tolerance for those who suffer severe peanut allergies. It's basically the same idea as a nicotine patch -- slap this little sticky patch on your arm, and small amounts of peanut protein will be absorbed into the skin, hopefully helping the body build a tolerance. Because it doesn't enter the bloodstream, it's possible to avoid deadly allergic reactions while introducing the system to the allergen.
In an article earlier this year, Time magazine noted that "Viaskin" was on the cusp of offering this truly new treatment option for patient with anaphylactic allergies to peanuts. Where avoidance is generally the rule, cross-contamination is a deep fear for many who manage food allergies -- when even a minute amount of an allergen could cause a life-threatening reaction, any contact can be lethal. The peanut patch offers hope that patients can tolerate small amounts, meaning cross-contamination fears would be alleviated. Many of the patients who participated in the trials couldn't even tolerate 1/10 of a peanut. This is the fear we live with every single day: minute amounts of allergen exposure can cost a life.
A number of studies have demonstrated that building tolerance to allergens is possible, and epicutaneous immunotherapy (EPIT) is now in its final human testing phase, with all good results. Viaskin trials included more than 200 patients, who were treated with either peanut patches or placebos over the course of one year. Dr. Hugh Sampson, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai and lead author of the study noted that, "After one year of therapy, half of the patients treated with the 250ug patch tolerated at least 1 gram of peanut protein -- about four peanuts -- which is 10 times the dose that they tolerated in their entry oral peanut challenge." One patient was able to eat an entire handful of peanuts without reactivity and there were no adverse reactions to the peanut patch. This is incredible! If building tolerance yields such results, imagine the freedom for those with life-threatening allergies?
I'm not sure whether it would be a lifelong treatment, or how coverage would work, but the fact that this treatment is out there, and is effective gives me so much hope!