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The Facts Regarding Peanut Allergies

Nov 04, 2015 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
It is no secret that peanut allergies have been on the rise. You may receive school handouts reminding you that your child cannot bring in any snacks that contain nuts, or see “nut-free” selections in restaurants. In 1997, only 0.6 percent of children had peanut or tree nut allergies, but by 2008 that rose to 2.1 percent.

Allergies are caused when the immune system mistakes proteins as something that is harmful to your body. When the body comes into contact with these proteins it releases chemicals to fight the proteins off, which in turn triggers the symptoms associated with the allergy. Some children are more at risk for developing food allergies, including children who have eczema, asthma, food allergies other than peanuts, or who have a parent or sibling with any of these diagnoses.

There is no known reason why these numbers have been increasing so drastically. One theory is that the way we now process peanuts makes them more allergenic and easier for our immune system to attack. Others predict that because we’re such a hygienic society and take sanitary precautions at young ages, the immune system attacks peanut proteins because it does not have as many other dangers to attack.

Many think that the cause for high rates of nut allergies in younger generations goes all the way back to their first couple years of life. Some new studies may suggest that the common rule of not giving foods containing allergens to infants should be reversed. Those studies suggest that children at risk for developing nut allergies (such as those with eczema or other food allergies) were 80% less likely to become allergic if they ate peanut-y snacks before 11 months of age, and continued to eat them at least 3 times a week until they were 5 years old.

There are new, emerging approaches being studied to minimize the likelihood of peanut allergies developing, and also to decrease the risk of a severe reaction in allergic children. Immunotherapy is one such emerging method, as well as a still experimental patch (Viaskin) which is placed on the skin every day and releases peanut protein into the body in an attempt to desensitize the person to peanuts.

How do you know if you or your child has a peanut allergy? Symptoms can range from hives, itching mouth or throat, vomiting, cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath, up to anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction. Any reaction to nuts should be taken seriously, and emergency medical care should be sought immediately. An Epinephrine injection may be needed, as well as a trip to the emergency room.

The best way to avoid any encounters with peanuts if you’re allergic is to be on guard: read labels, communicate with friends, family, teachers, coaches, and those who prepare your child’s food. Make sure that those around you are aware of the allergy and know not to eat peanuts in places that you could come into contact with it. If your child has a nut allergy, provide them with their own nut-free snacks when they go off to camp or play dates. Discuss with your child’s Pediatrician how and when to introduce high allergy risk foods in infancy and the best way to manage a food allergy if your child has one. If prescribed an EpiPen or AuViQ, remember to carry it with you/your child at all times, and know when and how to use it.

The Facts Regarding Peanut Allergies provided by University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.