Prevention, Avoidance, and Childhood Peanut Allergies

Children who are allergic to peanuts are taught to avoid more than just peanut butter. Foods such as cereals and baked goods can contain peanut-related products. Food items that are made in factories where peanuts are processed can also pose risks. Peanuts are a leading cause of food-related allergic reactions, and people who are severely allergic to them are advised to keep an epinephrine auto-injector nearby at all times.

Prevalence of peanut allergies have doubled

Allergies to peanut butter and other related products have doubled in the U.S. since 2005.

© joanna wnuk/Dollar Photo Club

Over the past 10 years, the prevalence of peanut allergy among children in Western countries has doubled. In the United States alone, an estimated 400,000 school-aged children have this food allergy. Healthcare providers teach children and their parents to minimize risks – and how to administer medical devices like an EpiPen during emergencies. But what if what we’ve learned about preventing allergic reactions is incorrect?

According to a study funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), peanut avoidance may be ill-advised. By exposing infants who were at high-risk of developing the allergy to peanuts, researchers demonstrated a reduction in the development of this food allergy. The results of the NIAID study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and could herald a shift in guidelines.

Researchers advise caution, however. Medical assessment should precede any peanut consumption in high-risk infants. Parents of young children with eczema or an egg allergy should consult with an allergist or pediatrician. Yet the fact remains that when the general public learns about the NIAID report from places like CNN, misinterpretations of fact could have consequences.

What has been your experience?

Does the average parent know if a child should be considered a “high risk” for peanut allergy?

If a child is only mildly allergic, will a well-meaning parent administer a potentially dangerous dose of peanut butter in the hopes of developing the child’s “tolerance”? Healthcare providers who work in emergency rooms could find out. Hopefully, conversations about peanut allergies will occur during regular pediatric checkups instead.

More research is needed.

For children who are at risk and for who currently have an allergy, close monitoring of what the child is eating is a must. Schools need to continue their vigilant cautions to all parents because the allergy can still be life threatening.

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