Peanut Allergy

An article in the December 2007 issue of the medical journal, Pediatrics, voices concern over the increasing number of children who are developing allergies to peanuts.  Many of them are showing symptoms of peanut allergy at a significantly younger age than children of the 1990s.

Lead researcher, Todd D. Green, MD, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and his colleagues, examined medical records of children diagnosed with peanut allergy from the 1990s to 2006.  Some alarming findings:

—  In 1990s, age when child first ate peanuts:  22 months;
—  In 2000s:  14 months.

—  In 1990s, age when first bad reaction to peanuts was noted:  24 months;
— In 2000s:  18 months.

Children often outgrow their peanut allergy without any medical intervention.  One theory as to why this happens is that children’s immune systems strengthen as the child grows but also as the child is exposed to more environmental elements of daily living.  As he or she gets bigger, little things like peanuts don’t seem to be such a bother anymore.

For this reason, a growing number of pediatricians is urging parents to wait until a child is at least three years old before introducing peanuts into the diet, especially if the child or either parent has a family history of peanut allergies.  The idea is that, by age three, the child’s immune system is probably strong enough to allow peanuts without triggering any peanut allergy symptoms.  The effect is thought to be life long.

To provide the most protection possible, women should avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy and nursing, especially if there is a history of peanut allergies in her family.

Symptoms of peanut allergy often become apparent as soon as ten minutes after eating peanuts.  Immediate medical treatment is advised if the child is experiencing his first allergic reaction or if the severity of his allergies is such that his life may be jeopardized.

Peanut allergy symptoms frequently begin as atopic dermatitis, one form of eczema that signals food allergies.  Some children experience gastrointestinal distress and others develop breathing difficulties.

The breathing difficulties are caused when the immune system responds to the peanut allergy by closing the airway in the throat.  The dangerously swollen tissue lining the airway blocks breathing to such a degree that a child can die from anaphylaxis shock.  Anaphylaxis shock can kill a person of any age within minutes.  It is vitally important to seek emergency medical assistance immediately.