What is a peanut allergy?
A peanut allergy is a type of food allergy specifically to peanuts, which is different to a nut allergy. Peanuts are a type of legume and do not grow on trees like other nuts, which is why they are categorized separately.
Peanuts can cause a severe and sometimes fatal allergic reaction, known as anaphylactic shock, which impairs breathing and needs immediate medical attention.
Symptoms include nausea, itchy skin, a tingling sensation around the mouth or throat, and a runny or congested nose. To prevent a reaction, strict avoidance of peanuts and products that contain peanuts is essential.
How many children does it affect?
According to studies, the number of cases of children with peanut allergies had tripled between 1997 and 2008, with numbers still rising.
FARE’s (Food Allergy Research and Education) statistics show that 1 in every 13 children in American suffers from peanut allergies, which equates to almost 2 per classroom and costs up to $25 billion in healthcare per year.
When to test for peanut allergies?
Most parents have been taught to wait until the 12 to 36-month mark to test their children’s reaction to peanuts and peanut products but new medical advice is suggesting much earlier exposure.
Officials from the National Institute of Health (NIH) are insisting that exposure as early as 4-month old could help to reduce the risk of developing peanut allergies significantly.
Why could earlier exposure prevent allergies?
Researchers noticed that Jewish children in Britain, who are not exposed to peanuts during infancy, have a ten-times higher rate of peanut allergies than those who live in Israel, who are exposed to peanut-based foods as early as 7-months old.
Researchers used this evidence to catalyze a study in 2015, which assessed the difference between the risk of peanut exposure and peanut avoidance on 600 babies. It was found that only 2% of the peanut eaters had developed an allergy by age 5, compared to 14% of those who had zero exposure. Even those categorized in as high risk proved that there was a 24% reduction in the development of allergies in those who were exposed to peanuts earlier.
How to assess risk?
The NIH recommendations outline exactly how and when to expose infants to peanuts or peanut-based products, based on whether they are low, medium or high risk cases.
Babies at high-risk suffer from eczema, skin rashes, and are usually first tested for peanut allergies in the doctor’s office. For low and medium risk babies, watered-down peanut butter or foods containing trace amounts of peanuts can be introduced to the diet to observe the reaction.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include nausea, hives or itching skin, a tingling sensation around the mouth, and can in rare cases lead to anaphylactic shock, which is a breathing impairment that requires immediate medical attention.
What do doctors say?
Dr. Mathew Greenhawt from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and a member of the NIH panel who wrote the guidelines says: “We’re on the cusp of hopefully being able to prevent a large number of cases of peanut allergy.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says: “It’s an important step forward. When you desensitize them from an early age, you have a very positive effect.”
“Just because your uncle, aunt, and sibling have an allergy, that’s even more reason to give your baby the food now, even if they’re already older than 6 months”, encouraged Dr. Scott Sicherer, a pediatric allergist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
What exactly are the guidelines?
The new advice urges parents and doctors to proactively introduce peanut products during infancy to drastically reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy, according to the following guidelines:
- To be sure that babies are developmentally ready, peanut products should only be introduced once solid foods are introduced.
- Because most babies are low-risk, peanut-based foods should be introduced as early as 4-6 months and approximately 3 times per week.
- Babies who suffer from mild eczema and are given over-the-counter creams to treat it can be considered as mild-high risk cases and should start peanut-based foods around 6-8 months.
- High-risk babies who suffer from severe eczema, egg allergies, and other reactions should first try peanut-based products in a doctor’s office as early as 4-months, and if the doctor is happy, peanut products can be included in the diet at home 2-3 times per week.