For toddlers allergic to peanuts, a new skin patch might increase their tolerance of the legume, according to the results of a late-stage clinical trial.
As the peanut patch is only experimental, it’s not clear yet when it could be available for consumers. But for parents of young children with allergies who could accidentally ingest peanuts at schools or daycares, it provides a glimpse of a less stressful future.
“Amazingly, not only did it raise the amount of peanut [tolerance] in these children, but the nature of the reaction also changed. There was a decrease in the number of severe reactions,” Matthew Greenhawt, a co-author of the new study and an allergist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, tells NBC News’ Aria Bendix.
The goal of the patch isn’t to eliminate peanut allergies in kids. Rather, the hope is that accidental exposures to peanuts will cause a less severe reaction, or none at all, Pharis Mohideen, chief medical officer for DBV Technologies, the company behind the patch, tells NBC News.
Still, the patch “has the possibility of saving a child’s life,” Weily Soong, an allergist at AllerVie Health allergy clinics who was not involved in the study, says to USA Today’s Adrianna Rodriguez.
Peanuts are among the most common food allergens for children in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Almost 2.5 percent of all U.S. children may be allergic to peanuts and at risk of an allergic reaction that may include hives, nausea, vomiting or shortness of breath. Exposure can also cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Currently, the only treatment for peanut allergies is a powder that kids can eat to reduce the severity of reactions, per Lauran Neergaard of the Associated Press (AP). But even that is only available to children ages four to 17—no peanut allergy treatment has been approved for kids under four, according to the study.
The new paper, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, included 362 toddlers between one and three years old who were allergic to peanuts. Around 85 percent of the participants completed the trial.
For around 22 hours each day for a year, the children wore the skin patch between their shoulder blades. It delivered a tiny dose of peanut protein equivalent to about a thousandth of a peanut, per the Washington Post’s Bryan Pietsch. Two thirds of the participants got the peanut patch, while the rest got a placebo patch.
After a year, 67 percent of the children that received the treatment could tolerate a higher dose of peanuts, compared to only 33.5 percent of children that received the placebo. (Greenhawt tells the AP that some of the children in the placebo group probably outgrew their allergy.) The two-thirds of patients for whom the peanut patch was successful could safely ingest the equivalent of up to four peanuts, per NBC News.
However, the study had two main limitations: Children with severe allergies weren’t included due to safety concerns, and the groups did not have much racial diversity. Each trial group only included one child identified as Black, writes the Washington Post.
The most common side effect was skin irritation around the patch. But some participants experienced an anaphylactic reaction—twenty-six who received the treatment and three who did not, per USA Today. The researchers think only four of the anaphylactic reactions among kids who wore the peanut patch were connected to the treatment.
Though it is too early to effectively compare the patch with current oral treatments, which may have different strengths and weaknesses, the trial’s results are “very good news for toddlers and their families as the next step toward a future with more treatments for food allergies,” Alkis Togias, an allergist at the National Institutes of Health who was not involved with the study, writes in an editorial that accompanies the paper.