Peanut allergy treatment does not CURE patients but protects them from reactions, scientists say

Peanut allergy immunotherapy pills do NOT cure patients but can protect them from potentially life-threatening reactions, scientists say

  • London scientists looked at how immunotherapy pills affected patients’ allergy
  • Found they reduced sensitivity to nut but couldn’t cure the condition altogether
  • The pills are packed with minuscule amounts of peanut to desensitise the body

Immunotherapy pills can protect some peanut allergy sufferers from fatal reactions but they cannot cure the condition, a study has shown.

Scientists were able to reduce patients’ sensitivity to the nut but could not get rid of the allergy altogether.

The pills are packed with minuscule amounts of peanut to train the body into producing antibodies to fight the allergen. 

Scientists may have edged closer to a treatment that prevents peanut allergies (stock)

This gets rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, where it works to desensitise the immune system to larger amounts of the nut. 

King’s College London researchers took samples from 22 peanut allergy patients aged four to 18 as part of their study.

When they stripped away the protective antibodies they found the allergic cells were still as reactive as before the treatment.  

But they did note the pills provided enough protection to save at least one in 50 Britons from death. 


Under clinical guidelines in the US, parents are advised to introduce peanuts into a baby’s diet ‘as early as four to six months’.

In the UK, parents are advised to give children crushed up peanuts from around six months, if there is no history of allergies in the family.

Peanut allergies among children have tripled since 1997, according to a study by the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital found last year. Around one in 100 people in the UK and US has a peanut allergy.

The allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly treats three types of peanut protein (Ara h1, Ara h2 and Ara h3) as a threat, when it comes into contact with them.

Their body then releases chemicals to destroy what it perceives as a dangerous invader. This rush of chemicals triggers symptoms of an allergic reaction, often within seconds.

These range from an itchy mouth to anaphylactic shock, where the airways narrow, blood pressure plummets and organs start to shut down.

Sufferers who have had severe reactions usually carry an EpiPen device to give themselves a shot of adrenaline if another reaction occurs.

This opens up the airways and dilates blood vessels to force blood pressure back up. 

The findings strengthen the theory that while immunotherapy pills can provide some protection, they do not ‘cure’ the allergies.

Immunotherapy is the only treatment option peanut allergy patients are offered. However, most are through clinical trials because it is not yet available on the NHS. 

It can be delivered in pill-form, dissolved under the tongue or applied to the skin as a patch. 

Lead author, Dr Alexandra Santos, from King’s College London and Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said: ‘Peanut oral immunotherapy can confer some protection to accidental exposure to peanut as a result of the so-called “blocking antibodies” and shown by the reduction in the reaction of allergic cells after treatment.

‘But if we remove these blocking antibodies we could see that the cells are still as reactive as before, confirming that the patients were still allergic and need to keep going with the POIT [immunotherapy treatment] regimen to maintain the protection.’ 

Peanut allergy is a potentially life-threatening condition, with rates having doubled over the last two decades. It now affects around one in 50 children in the UK. 

The condition is rarely outgrown and is the most common cause of food allergy deaths. There is currently no cure.

Just 100mg of peanut protein can trigger a severe reaction. A single peanut kernel contains around 300mg of the protein.  

Reactions usually cause symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes and hives. In rare cases, they can trigger anaphylaxis. 

This can be deadly, with symptoms including swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. 


Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, can kill within minutes.

It is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.

The reaction can often be triggered by certain foods, including peanuts and shellfish.

However, some medicines, bee stings, and even latex used in condoms can also cause the life-threatening reaction.

According to the NHS, it occurs when the immune system overreacts to a trigger. 

Symptoms include: feeling lightheaded or faint; breathing difficulties – such as fast, shallow breathing; wheezing; a fast heartbeat; clammy skin; confusion and anxiety and collapsing or losing consciousness. 

It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

Insect stings are not dangerous for most victims but a person does not necessarily have to have a pre-existing condition to be in danger. 

An incremental build-up of stings can cause a person to develop an allergy, with a subsequent sting triggering the anaphylactic reaction.