Peanut Allergies – the latest research

10th Feb 2016

Once upon a time, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were school lunch room staples. Fast forward to today, where we now have peanut-free schools, and peanut butter has been relegated to the garbage heap of foods dangerous to your health, like trans-fats and highly processed foods. Over the last decade, the prevalence of peanut allergies has doubled in western countries. In fact, peanut allergies are the leading cause of food allergy-related deaths in the United States.

Parents were earlier advised to delay introducing allergenic foods in the first year of their baby’s life. The recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was to avoid peanuts till three years of age in high risk children (those with a family history of peanut or other food allergies, or with a history of eczema). Then, in 2008, the AAP retracted its previous guidelines, acknowledging that there was insufficient evidence to support the delayed introduction of allergens as a strategy to reduce the risk of food / peanut allergies.

Around this time, researchers in the UK noticed that Jewish children in the UK were 10 times more prone to developing peanut allergies than Jewish children in Israel. Since these children had a common ancestry, it was likely that the British children’s allergies were caused by environmental factors rather than genetic.

The researchers noted that children in the UK rarely ate peanut products during their first year of life, whereas their Israeli counterparts routinely ate a snack called Bamba — peanut-coated corn puffs that are a common snack among Israeli children. The researchers decided to study around 600 babies with severe eczema or egg allergies, both indicators of potential peanut allergies. They were divided into two groups. The children in group one were allowed to eat Bamba or peanut butter, but those in the second group were not. The researchers found that at age five, peanut butter allergy prevalence was significantly higher in group two, the group that did not eat peanuts.

Incredible Peanut Allergy news: What does it mean?

With so many conflicting views on when and whether to introduce peanuts in a child’s diet, it is naturally very confusing for parents to figure out what to do. Here are some guidelines:

  • If your child has a rash or any other reaction to peanuts, please DO NOT give him/her peanuts. Talk to your pediatrician about managing your child’s peanut allergies.
  • If your child is at high risk for food allergies but hasn’t yet been diagnosed with one, again, please talk to your pediatrician. You may want to try to introduce peanuts for the first time in the pediatrician’s office, under medical supervision.
  • If your child is not at high risk, consider introducing peanut butter after six months of age. DO NOT GIVE WHOLE PEANUTS, as they are a choking hazard.

Symptoms of Peanut Allergies

  • Immediate response to peanut exposure:
    • Runny nose
    • Skin reactions such as hives, redness or swelling
    • Itching or tingling in and around the mouth/throat
    • Digestive problems such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea or vomiting
    • Throat tightening
    • Shortness of breath or wheezing
    • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis: a life threatening reaction

Peanut-induced anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires treatment with epinephrine (EpiPen, TwinJect) and a trip to the emergency room.

Signs:

  • Airway constriction
  • Swelling of the throat with difficulty breathing
  • Severe drop in blood pressure (shock)
  • Rapid thready pulse
  • Dizziness, loss of consciousness