Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is it really a peanut allergy?

I'm deviating from my Healthy Change posts to write about a study that was just published regarding the "over-diagnosis" of peanut allergies.  Researchers in Manchester, England are claiming that a large percentage of people diagnosed with a peanut allergy may not be at risk at all.

You can read the whole article on WebMd, but here's the jist.  The University Hospital South Manchester fed 993 eight year old, peanut allergic children a special brownie spiked with a peanut protein.  They then gave these children a blood test, presumably a new one, that looks for a reaction to a specific part of the peanut which triggers a serious allergic reaction. The difference between their blood test and a normal skin prick test is that the skin prick test looks for antibodies to more of the peanut as opposed to the part that triggers the serious allergic reaction.  These researchers believe that traditional skin prick test gives too many wrong diagnoses.

Out of these 993 children, 80% who were believed to have an allergy did not suffer any reaction after eating the peanut-laced brownies.  That's a huge percentage! Further though "the researchers admit the study only looked at a relatively small number of children, but say they have confirmed the presence of peanut allergy is substantially lower than peanut sensitisation. They write that accurate testing is needed to allow anxious parents to find out whether a child will react to peanuts."

I'm not sure how I feel about this study!  I do agree that better testing is needed, and I wonder how many children are assigned the label "peanut allergic" without complete testing, i.e., blood test, skin test and food challenge.  Unfortantely, I know that Abigail is allergic and isn't just sensitive.  She had a mild reaction from ingestion before she was 2 years old.  We then had her blood tested, and her IgE numbers confirmed the allergy.  Because she had a reaction, she didn't have a skin test until 5 years later when we started the trial at Duke.  It did also end up being positive. Incidently, part of the criteria for being part of a clinical trial is that a child or adult must have had an actual reaction, and now, each participant is food challenged at the start of every study.

Because no one knows the type of reaction they're going to have at any given time if exposed to peanuts, I still see that peanut allergic individuals have no choice but to continue a strict avoidance.  I would hope that no one would assume they were just sensitive to peanuts and not allergic until a test confirmed as much.  I am intrigued though and look forward to seeing more results of this study.  I'll be asking our doctor at Duke questions about this study next time we're there.

I'm also a tad bit anxious when a study like this is published.  There is a large population that think we are making too big a deal of peanut allergies especially if it means they are inconvenienced.  These type of studies just add fuel to the fire, and are quite frustrating.  This one tells us that there is a chance that our children, or even ourselves, might just be sensitive, but it doesn't give us the means to find out. So, in the meantime, we have to continue to live by what we are told, and in many cases, what we've experienced.  Right now, we know that there is a risk of possible death if a peanut allergic person ingests a peanut product.  Until more is learned, that has to be our driving force!


Julie Redfern said...

Wow! It seems that study just creates more questions instead of making things easier or having more concrete information provided.

Anonymous said...

Please share what your doctors at Duke have to say about the study!! Unfortunately, we learned after an anaphylactic reaction that DS was allergic to peanuts so there's no misdiagnosing that one! :/