Why is Peanut Allergy on the Rise?
No one knows for certain why people have more allergies (including peanut allergies) today than they did in the past. One theory that has gained prominence is the hygiene hypothesis.
This hypothesis states that kids growing up in industrialized countries are not exposed to the level of germs, infections and parasites as kids who grow up in less clean or modern environments. (Livestock farms, for instance, have been shown to have a protective quality, known as the “Farm Effect”.)
The idea is that the immune system needs these exposures to develop properly, and without them, it is underworked – and begins to develop antibodies to otherwise harmless substances, such as peanuts.
Other theories that attempt to explain a rise in food allergy include insufficient vitamin D, food processing (ie: roasting and emulsification of peanuts for peanut butter, rather than fried or boiled peanuts), and the delay of exposure to the allergen in infancy.*
*Source: 2010 FA primer. JACI
Is there a Cure?
Currently, there is no cure for peanut allergy. However, scientists are working on ways to “desensitize” patients to peanuts and other allergens such as milk or egg. This is done in a very controlled setting, with emergency treatment at hand, and must never be tried at home.
The most researched and talked about form of desensitization at this point is called oral immunotherapy (OIT).
In this treatment, an allergic child consumes gradually increasing amounts of his or her allergen (in this case, peanut powder) in an effort to retrain the immune system. To date, researchers have been able to make a small number of children “desensitized” to peanut, meaning they can have peanuts in their diet, but they must stay on a daily dose in order to ensure they won’t react.
Researchers are also studying whether this process may make people “tolerant”, or in other words, cured of their allergy.
See Also: Managing Peanut Allergy