Does it seem as if peanut allergy is everywhere? You can’t go to a school, day care, restaurant or indeed almost anywhere anything is drunk or eaten these days without being warned. There are very good reasons for this caution. In the last 20 years, peanut allergies have increased dramatically.
From 1997 to 2010, rates more than tripled from 0.4 percent to 1.4 percent. Researchers haven’t determined what’s caused this steep rise in peanut allergies, but a promising new study shows that parents might help prevent their children from developing a peanut allergy.
Peanut allergies usually develop in young children and continue throughout life.
People with peanut allergies — especially severe peanut allergies — have to be careful about the foods they eat and sometimes the environments they are in to avoid an allergic reaction that can be life threatening.
The previous recommendation was to avoid giving children peanuts until age 3.
Then a Learning Early About Peanut allergy, or LEAP, study showed that introducing peanuts to infants could prevent peanut allergies later in life. In the study, carefully introducing peanuts to high-risk infants from when they started eating solid foods until they were 5 years old led to 81 percent fewer peanut allergies.
How and when peanuts should be introduced depends on the level of risk the infant has.
Infants are considered to be at high risk for developing a peanut allergy if they have eczema, an egg allergy or both. With the help of and in the presence of your pediatrician, parents of a high-risk infant can begin introducing peanuts into the diet between the ages of 4 to 6 months. In some cases, your pediatrician may conduct an allergy test prior to introducing peanuts into the baby’s diet.
Infants at mild or moderate risk because they have eczema should be introduced to peanuts cautiously at around 6 months old.
On the other hand, infants with no known risk factors for peanut allergies can begin eating peanuts and other foods containing peanuts as soon as they start eating solid foods.
With the introduction of these guidelines, we hope to begin reversing this increase in peanut allergies, making it safer for everyone.
If you are introducing a new food to your child, it’s important to know the symptoms of food allergies, which typically begin within a few minutes of eating the food. Look for a runny nose, itchy hives, redness or swelling, a tingling or itchy sensation around the mouth or in the throat, stomach cramps, diarrhea or vomiting, tightening of the throat or shortness of breath.
People with severe allergies may also experience anaphylaxis, which, if not treated immediately, can be fatal. During anaphylaxis, the throat begins to swell shut, making breathing difficult, and is accompanied by a drop in blood pressure and a rapid pulse. This can cause dizziness or a loss of consciousness unless an epinephrine injection, often from an automatically injecting pen, is given.
Please talk to your pediatrician about nut allergies; get their advice; follow it carefully and if, there are allergies in the family, or your doctor believes your child is at increased risk, consider having an auto-injector appropriate for your age child on hand.
If you ever notice symptoms of an allergic reaction, especially the breathing trouble that is associated with anaphylaxis in someone, call 911 and get them to an ER immediately.
Enjoy peanuts, but be smart about it.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for the Geisinger Health System and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]