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Health Spotlight | Toothpaste for peanut allergies

Health Spotlight | Toothpaste for peanut allergies

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One in 50 children in the United States is allergic to peanuts, while 1 in 200 adults have the allergy, too.

Peanut allergies have more than tripled over the past 20 years, and nobody really knows why.

But, there are several breakthroughs when it comes to helping people with these allergies stay safe – maybe even one day, be able to eat whatever they like without the fear of an allergic reaction.

You could call 5-year-old Kaleb Billeter somewhat of a Lego expert. Not much worries him, but his mother, on the other hand, worries a lot.

“When Kaleb was 6 months old, he broke out into hives all over his chest, torso, face,” said Elizabeth Billiter, Kaleb’s mother.

The hives were the first sign of a dangerous peanut allergy.

“I had bumps all over my face,” Kaleb said.

Kaleb was treated with a peanut patch – he wore it every day for several months – they hope in the end, it will help him tolerate a small amount of peanuts without having a reaction. Another treatment being used – oral immunotherapy – think of it as micro-dosing peanuts.

“The kids eat that peanut flour in small increasing amounts to try to retrain their immune system and make them less reactive,” said Dr. Edwin Kim, a pediatric allergist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Now, researchers are working with a toothpaste that could one day help prevent severe allergic reactions by triggering the immune cells in our mouths.

“Maybe if we take the peanut and then put it in a form of toothpaste that coats the whole inner side of the mouth, we can take advantage of those immune cells, get the benefit that we want,” said Kim.

When people brush their teeth, the peanut protein gets absorbed into their mouth. None of the participants experienced any reaction – no trouble breathing, swelling of the throat, pale skin, blue lips, fainting or dizziness. Although it won’t cure the allergy, it will make the body’s response less life threatening.

“They taste really good,” said Kaleb.

Kim also found that putting a small amount of liquid peanut extract under the tongue desensitized young children to their peanut allergy. By the end of that trial, 80% of toddlers could tolerate 15 peanuts without any symptoms.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.