Peanut and tree nut allergy can be a serious condition that affects approximately three million Americans. There is no cure for peanut allergy, merely symptomatic relief, and there is a lack of public and medical understanding of the condition. Mayo Clinic in Rochester has joined with six other leading medical research centers from across the country to form the Centers for Peanut Allergy Awareness with the purpose of helping to increase understanding of peanut allergy. The medical research centers are currently conducting a peanut allergy study designed to determine if an investigational drug can lessen the severity of an allergic reaction in sufferers. Rochester, Minneapolis and St. Paul-area peanut allergy sufferers, ages 12 to 60, are being sought for participation. Those interested in more information can call toll free 1-877-316-7865 or visit www.PeanutAllergyResource.com.

Peanuts are the leading cause of fatal food allergic reactions - followed by shellfish, fish, tree nuts and eggs - and reactions are typically characterized by more severe symptoms than other food allergies. A reaction is usually brought on by accidentally ingesting food containing peanut as an ingredient. During a reaction, the body's immune system mistakes the food for a harmful allergen and immediately begins to combat the foreign substance. The resulting reaction can range from mild hives and nausea, to a severe reaction in which the sufferer can go into anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction in which the release of histamine causes swelling, difficulty in breathing, heart failure, circulatory collapse, and sometimes death.

"Peanut allergy is a poorly characterized condition and many people don't realize how serious it is and how dramatically it can affect the physical and emotional lives of sufferers, their families and friends," comments John Yunginger, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, Mayo Medical School. "Right now current treatments for peanut allergy only address the symptoms. That's why this study is so important because it focuses on the need for research into preventive treatments," continues Yunginger.

Current treatments for peanut allergy focus on the symptoms that occur during a reaction. Severe sufferers must use epinephrine (i.e., adrenaline) to help prevent anaphylactic shock. Once administered, subsequent hospital follow-up is required. Strict avoidance of peanut and peanut-ingredient is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. Due to the common use of peanuts as adulterants in foods, avoidance can be difficult, especially for children.

"I used to work in a candy store and once someone gave me a piece of candy with a tiny fragment of a peanut in it. I threw up, developed hives and had trouble breathing. I ended up in the emergency room with anaphylactic shock," comments Ashley Connors, a severe peanut allergy sufferer.

Mayo Clinic, along with the other six medical research centers, are seeking to enroll a total of 84 peanut allergy sufferers into the study. Participants will be required to complete a total of 10 visits over seven months. The study is being conducted by some of the country's leading peanut allergy specialists. In addition to an initial screening, participants will undergo three peanut sensitivity tests to determine the severity of their allergic reaction. Mayo Clinic also will coordinate discussion groups for the public to learn more about peanut allergy and the research study.

Although there is no cure for peanut allergy, there are preventative measures:
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet indicating that you suffer from peanut allergy. If you are a parent of a child with peanut allergy, ensure that your child wears the bracelet at all times.

  • Educate the staff at your child's school about the condition and how to manage a reaction. Encourage the school to be proactive in gaining approval to use emergency medical procedures in schools.

  • Encourage restaurants to develop menus that list meals with peanut or peanut-derived ingredients. Inform local restaurants about the condition and effects of peanut allergy and suggest staff training on the topic.

  • Consider research studies as an option; they may offer hope of finding an effective therapy.
Those interested in obtaining a free brochure on peanut allergy, or in finding out more about participation in the research study and/or a discussion group, can call toll free 1-877-316-7865 or visit www.PeanutAllergyResource.com.