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Can a 'Peanut Patch' Help Treat Allergies in Kids?

Little boy treated for peanut allergies waits for a peanut butter sandwich.

New research shows a promising treatment for peanut allergies in toddlers could be on the horizon. Currently around 8% of children in the U.S. have food allergies and around 1-2% of those children have a peanut allergy.

The “peanut patch” is a form of epicutaneous immunotherapy. That means instead of ingesting peanuts orally, children with a peanut allergy wear a patch on their skin that contains small amounts of peanut proteins. The goal of this kind of treatment is to slowly desensitize the patient to peanuts.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found after a year of treatment, the patch helped to reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction in children between the ages of one and three.

Pediatric allergist Stephanie Leeds, MD, MHS, of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Food Allergy Prevention Program and assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, says while the patch is not yet commercially available, the research is promising.

“Data supports that early immunotherapy in infants and toddlers may be most effective,” Dr. Leeds said. “The patch also overcomes some of the challenges of oral immunotherapy, in which infants and toddlers are required to orally ingest peanut in an effort towards desensitization. Infants and toddlers can be picky eaters and the patch does not require any active eating on the part of the patient.”

Most common food allergens

In years past parents were told to wait to introduce allergens like peanuts. Now the guidance is to introduce allergens early and often. Dr. Leeds recommends the safe introduction of peanut around four to six months old, particularly in high-risk infants. This can come in the form of small amounts of peanut butter thinned out with breast milk or formula, or a baby-safe peanut puff that dissolves easily in the mouth. Other common allergens kids should be exposed to early include:

  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Sesame

When introducing allergens to babies, it’s best to introduce those foods one a time. That way if there is a reaction, parents will know what is causing it.

While recent data shows about one third of children may outgrow their peanut allergy, it’s unclear why this happens to some kids and not to others. Therefore, if a child has an allergy, they should be monitored by a board-certified allergist who can offer different forms of immunotherapy to help treat their allergy and monitor any changes.

Learn more about treatment at the Pediatric Food Allergy Prevention Program.