KIDS
February 25, 2015

Progress on Peanut Allergies

Two studies put a dent in peanuts' reign of terror among parents of school children.

Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies among children. An allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes of exposure and can range from mild to severe. The allergy can be slow to outgrow, and may never be outgrown. There is no cure for it.

Now a study finds that it may be better to expose kids to peanuts early, rather than trying to avoid them completely. And another study just published found a genetic link to the allergy.

At the mild end, symptoms of peanut allergy can include a runny nose, skin reactions, such as hives, redness or swelling; itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting.

In a severe reaction, the child's throat may swell and close, making breathing difficult. This can lead to anaphylaxis, a serious condition requiring medical intervention, the symptoms of which can include a severe drop in blood pressure (shock), rapid pulse and dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness.

Introducing peanuts into a child’s diet in the first 11 months of life may actually protect them from developing peanut allergy.

The incidence of food allergies has risen in recent years, and the occurrence of peanut allergy has more than doubled in the past decade.

Pediatricians and allergists have tended to recommend that parents and caregivers avoid feeding infants foods deemed to be highly allergenic. In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics withdrew their longstanding guideline for parents to avoid feeding their children peanuts and other allergenic foods during the first year of life, but left unclear when to begin feeding those foods.

This new study found evidence that introducing peanuts into a child’s diet in the first 11 months of life may actually protect them from developing peanut allergy

Researchers at King’s College London studied the effect of peanut consumption versus peanut avoidance to see which strategy worked best to prevent allergy. They followed 640 infants who were between the ages of 4 and 11 months and considered at high risk of developing peanut allergy because they had severe eczema or an allergy to eggs.

Half of the infants were fed foods that contained peanuts three or more times a week, while the other half were asked to avoid peanuts until they reached the age of five.

After five years, 17 percent of the children who avoided peanuts developed a peanut allergy compared to less than one percent of those who consumed peanuts, an 80 percent reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy among the group.

The researchers concluded that the early introduction of peanuts was safe and well tolerated by most children and significantly decreased the number of peanut allergies occurring among high-risk infants. Roasting peanuts also appears to influence the development of peanut allergy. Raw peanuts, fed to children around the world, appear to be less allergenic.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to Gideon Lack, one of the study's authors, new guidelines to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in children may now be needed.

In a related study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health located an area in the human genome associated with peanut allergy in children, suggesting that genes play a role in the development of food allergies.

Xiaobin Wang, MD, ScD, MPH, the principal investigator of the study, said in a statement, “Hopefully, one day, we can manage or prevent food allergies in a safe, simple, effective way. We might be able to use pharmaceutical treatment, but if we can figure out whether a lifestyle, nutrition or environmental change could reduce allergies, that would be even better.”

Who knows, with research on peanut allergies taking off in so many directions, it may once again become possible to send your child to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

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