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March 20, 2006

Peanut Allergy Cure is Getting Closer

For peanut allergy sufferers, including 1.5 million U.S. adults and children who live each day afraid that one mistaken bite may cause a deadly reaction, a cure may be on the horizon. A new series of studies published in the July 2003 Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology indicates that scientists are closer to finding a cure for peanut allergy, according to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

"Carefully reading labels, asking questions about ingredients at restaurants and carrying epinephrine are a way of life for peanut allergy sufferers," said Anne Muñoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of FAAN. "So is hoping that scientists will one day find a cure. The future looks promising."

The series of articles, the first of its kind for peanut allergy, covers topics including the latest information on causes, diagnosis and treatment of reactions, better understanding of who might outgrow peanut allergy and potential new therapies to desensitize patients. One study also has immediate ramifications for asthma sufferers, linking food allergy as a significant risk factor for life-threatening asthma.

The findings are critical for school administrators, child care providers, the food industry, restaurants, airlines and physicians and other health care providers. "We must continue to improve education about food allergies, symptom recognition, the use of epinephrine and other emergency responses," said Muñoz-Furlong. "Today, improved knowledge and quick response times are the best cures against deadly reactions."

Allergic food reactions, particularly peanut allergy, are on the rise. Peanut allergy is believed to be the leading cause of severe or life-threatening food-induced anaphylaxis, causing an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits each year and nearly 100 deaths. Peanuts, along with milk, eggs, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds and pecans, for example), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions in the United States. Food allergy-induced reactions are estimated to account for tens of thousands of allergic reactions each year and 30,000 emergency room visits.

"When someone is diagnosed with a food allergy," added Muñoz-Furlong, "they can't just go home and avoid milk, eggs or peanuts. To avoid reactions they must learn the technical names for these foods, read ingredient labels and teach others -- including restaurant staff, educators, babysitters and coaches &endash; how to recognize and treat reactions when they occur."

In spite of best efforts at avoidance, reactions will occur. "Every time a food-allergic individual puts something in their mouth, they must be ready to treat a reaction. Some people say a silent prayer that the food they are about to eat won't kill them."

Each year, peanut allergy causes nearly 100 deaths, more than 15,000 emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of milder reactions handled at home. For the 1.5 million Americans who are allergic to peanuts, reading labels, asking questions about ingredients at restaurants, and carrying epinephrine is a way of life.

The studies provide hope. Hope that scientists will one day find a cure for peanut allergy. Based on the findings, the future looks brighter for the millions of patients and their families who live each day in fear that one bite of a food containing peanuts may cause a deadly reaction.

Still, the best practices for now are avoidance and the immediate administration of epinephrine if a reaction occurs. And most importantly, we must continue to educate. Educate patients, health care professionals, school personnel, businesses, and the population at large on the dangers of food allergy reactions.

We still have a ways to go. Most people ask themselves, "What's the big deal? Why can't these people just not eat peanut butter and take care of themselves?" Believe me, they wish they could.

When someone is diagnosed with a food allergy, they can't just go home and avoid milk, eggs, or peanuts. To avoid reactions, patients must learn the technical names for these foods and read ingredient labels. Would you know that peanuts are also called monkey nuts? ground nuts? mandelonas? Additionally, one company listed them by the type of peanut -- Valencias.

Then, there are instances where the peanuts are found unexpectedly -- reactions have occurred in restaurants from peanuts or peanut butter in hot chocolate, chili sauce, spring rolls, enchiladas, egg rolls, pie crusts, as well as a variety of desserts.

Patients must teach others, including restaurant staff, educators, babysitters, and coaches, how to recognize and to treat reactions when they occur.

In spite of best efforts at avoidance, reactions will occur. The majority of reactions occur outside the home, often in restaurant settings and sometimes in schools. Always unexpected.

If a waiter, waitress, or member of the kitchen staff in a restaurant doesn't take food allergies seriously, his or her mistake can land someone in the hospital or worse. For example, one woman died, even though she'd informed the waiter about her peanut allergy. The cause? The lamb chops she ordered had been marinated in a mixture containing peanut butter.

A young man died and another had a near fatal reaction after eating cookies from a vending machine. Although years apart, in both cases, the company had large amounts of undeclared peanuts in the cookie dough.

It's not just about peanuts -- other food allergies call for the same type of caution and can cause severe or fatal reactions.

And finally, while FAAN members report improvement in the management of food allergies at school, reactions continue to occur when food, particularly peanuts, are used as part of a craft project or when food is brought in from the outside for special class celebrations.

As you can see, food allergy avoidance is not easy. Peanut allergy reactions continue to rise. Food allergy, particularly peanut allergy, has become a public health and food safety concern whose wake has been felt by everyone -- from the government, to food industry, restaurants, schools, health professionals, and patients.

The studies show us that there is hope, but we must not let our guard down. FAAN will continue to take the lead on education, awareness, advocacy and research. But until there is a cure, education and proper diagnosis from an allergist is the key to preventing reactions.

source: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

Posted by David at March 20, 2006 7:18 PM