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Worried About Peanut Allergies? New Info for Those with Babies and Young Children

February 26, 2015

Potential good news for those concerned about peanut allergies.

A new study available in the current online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine notes that babies and children who eat peanuts from an early age are less likely to develop a peanut allergy.

The prevalence of peanut allergies today has doubled in the past decade, increasing to 3% of children in developed countries.

Study findings

The clinical trial is the first to show that early introduction of peanut products into the diets of infants at high risk of developing a peanut allergy was safe and reduced the subsequent development of the allergy.

The researchers assessed peanut allergies in children at five years of age with a supervised, oral food challenge with the nut. They found an overall 81 percent reduction of peanut allergy in children who began early, continuous consumption of peanuts compared to those who avoided peanuts.

Warning for parents

But, a word of caution from Dr. John O’Reilly, a Baystate Children’s Hospital pediatrician at Baystate General Pediatrics.

"The results of this study are promising, but there may need to be further studies to confirm that this is safe and effective for all infants. Early introduction of peanut protein isn’t something that parents should try on their own. Peanut allergies are life threatening and you absolutely must check with your child’s pediatrician first," he said.

In other peanut news, a 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that pregnant women who eat peanuts or tree nuts are less likely than others to have a child with a nut allergy. The more nuts women ate during their pregnancies, the less likely their child was to be allergic.

"There have been conflicting reports on whether or not pregnant women should eat peanut products, so it is a good idea for them to check with their OB/GYN before making any decision," Dr. O’Reilly said.

According to the Baystate pediatrician, for many children, their first sign of allergies often begins with the development of eczema and food allergies, and from those can evolve asthma and allergic rhinitis.

Managing allergies

Dr. O’Reilly noted that when it comes to treatment, there is no way to prevent or cure a food allergy, such as a peanut allergy, at the present time, although work is ongoing in which researchers are attempting to desensitize their patients to some nut allergies.

For the present time, food-allergic children must avoid certain foods and constantly guard against accidental exposures to hidden food allergens.

Available medications can treat symptoms, but only after the allergic reaction to food occurs. Antihistamines can treat mild symptoms such as itching or hives. Also, injectable epinephrine may be prescribed to keep close at hand for a parent – or child when old enough – to administer after accidentally ingesting a food that has caused a severe allergic reaction in the past. Consultation with an allergist should be considered for Pediatric patients with severe allergic reactions.

Whether peanut or other food allergy, here are some tips to manage them:

  • Ask about ingredients when eating at a restaurant or eating foods prepared by other family members or friends.
  • Read food labels carefully, even a product you always purchase in case the ingredients have changed.
  • Safeguard against cross-contamination in the kitchen with knives, cutting boards and other utensils and appliances; this can also be a concern in restaurants, school kitchens and elsewhere.

The new peanut allergy study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and was conducted by the NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network (ITN).