Immunotherapy a promising treatment for peanut allergies

Immunotherapy a promising treatment for peanut allergies uncomfortable side effects can induce anxiety.

young patients to the mindset that so uncomfortable side effects are a sign that treatment is working can help reduce anxiety, according to new research by Stanford psychologists.

The study, published Jan. 28 in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology In Practice, found that when children perceived mild reactions to immunotherapy as useful, they were less anxious about symptoms and also less likely to skip doses that would impede treatment.

They were also less likely to experience side effects at the end of their treatment when real peanuts are introduced – which for some patients can induce anxiety all over again.

Promising Treatment

Promising treatmentsAlmost 6 million American children and adolescents have food allergies. Oral immunotherapy is an emerging treatment whereby patients gradually consume tiny doses of the allergen until they build tolerance to it.

During treatment, patients can experience mild but fleeting side effects, like an itchy mouth or congestion. These reactions are evidence that the treatment is working, but for some patients, it can cause anxiety because of its association with a larger, more severe allergic reaction.

“We know from decades of clinical trials that oral immunotherapy is likely effective in protecting from accidental exposure to food allergens,” said Kari Nadeau, the study’s lead physician and co-author.


“But I’ve seen firsthand how challenging this treatment can be for patients and their families to complete. Experiencing symptoms during treatment can be a source of anxiety that can lead patients to end treatment early, so we were particularly eager to find a mindset that could help patients come to understand symptoms in a more adaptive way.”

The study builds on ongoing research at the Stanford Mind & Body Lab about how mindsets thoughts, beliefs and expectations can influence behavior and health outcomes.

Sometimes uncomfortable symptoms indicate healing, said Lauren Howe, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology and lead author on the study. For example, a fever means that a body is fighting an infection. When a cut is inflamed and itches, it is a sign the wound is healing.

Postive Signals

“In these cases, as well as others, you could think of symptoms not just as unfortunate side effects, but as signals of healing: what we called a ‘symptoms as positive signals’ mindset,” Howe said.

 “But we thought that people might often miss this mindset about symptoms, only seeing the negative aspects of symptoms. So, we thought an intervention that made this mindset salient could have a lot of potential.”