Peanut allergy is among the most common food allergies in the U.S. The only treatment at the moment is dietary elimination (which means never eating peanuts, or anything containing peanuts) and, should the food accidentally be consumed, injections of epinephrine. However, a new treatment being tested by researchers is showing promise.

A new multicenter clinical trial finds a treatment called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) to hold promise, according to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. With this treatment, participants were given daily doses of a liquid containing peanut powder in gradually increasing amounts. After holding the liquid under the tongue for two minutes they then swallowed it.

After 40 participants with peanut allergy (ages 12 to 37) took a baseline test in which they were given up to two grams of peanut powder to see how much they could safely tolerate, half received daily peanut liquid and half received placebo. At 44 weeks, 70 percent (or 14 out of 20) of those who were taking daily peanut liquid had become desensitized to peanut compared to 15 percent (or three out of 20) of those taking the placebo. Responders to treatment were defined as participants who successfully could consume either 5 g of peanut powder or at least 10-fold more peanut powder than they had been able to tolerate in the baseline test.

After 68 weeks of sublingual immunotherapy, researchers found that participants’ tolerance to the peanut powder grew even stronger and they could tolerate much higher amounts. The study, which was funded by grants from the NIAID and the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, concluded that peanut SLIT safely induced desensitization in a majority of participants compared to placebo, and that longer duration of therapy led to significant increases in the amount of peanut powder people could safely consume.

These results are encouraging,” said Wesley Burks, MD, Curnen Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “The immune response was stronger than we thought it might be, and the side effects of this treatment were relatively small. However, the magnitude of the therapeutic effect was somewhat less than we had anticipated. That’s an issue we plan to address in future studies.”

Among the most common side effects was itchiness in the mouth.

Researchers caution that this is not the sort of treatment those with peanut allergy should ever attempt to mimic on their own, and doing so could be dangerous. At the moment, this is a treatment that should be given to those with peanut allergy only under close medical supervision and monitoring in a clinical trial.

Would You, under medical supervision, ever try such a treatment for peanut allergy?