Allergy to peanuts has been an increasing problem in children. It is estimated that the prevalence of peanut allergy is about 1.5 percent in children (about one child in every 65) under the age of 18 in the United States.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common reasons for a severe allergy attack in children. In some cases, the attacks can become so severe that they are life-threatening. As a result, families have had to maintain peanut-free households, schools have eliminated peanut butter from snack and lunch programs.
Because even the tiniest exposure to peanuts can cause the severe (anaphylactic) reaction, restaurants disclose to consumers if peanuts or equipment associated with peanuts may be present. Even many airlines have stopped offering peanuts to avoid a potentially fatal allergy in the air.
If a child has peanut allergies, the parents must constantly monitor everything they eat, both at home and away from home, to prevent accidental and potentially catastrophic exposure. Having a peanut allergy is a life-changing diagnosis for a child.
Additionally, children with a peanut allergy may also be allergic to one or more tree nuts, including pecans, almonds or walnuts. One can only imagine what a monumental and time-consuming effort avoiding peanuts and other nut allergies requires.
Fortunately, the National Institutes of Health has issued new guidelines to help prevent peanut allergies. The guidelines were issued the first week of 2017.
Doctors and researchers have come to understand that the immune system radically develops and “fine-tunes” its sensitivities during the first year of life. This provides a golden “window of opportunity” to work with and help educate the immune system that peanuts (and other allergy-producing foods) are OK, and the immune system should not develop an allergy to peanuts.
Allergy prevention involves exposing the infant to peanut butter between four and six months of age. This early exposure somehow informs the immune system not to develop an allergy to peanuts. Researchers and doctors in Australia report that exposing infants also to dairy, eggs and wheat can have the same allergy-preventing properties.
Of course, these are general recommendations and guidelines. Every parent should carefully consult with their child’s pediatrician and, if indicated, a consulting pediatric allergist to determine if peanut allergy prevention should be initiated and exactly what timing and type of exposure should be employed in an infant to prevent allergies.
In short, don’t undertake this on your own. Talk to your doctor first. The good news is that doctors may finally have a handle on preventing or even eliminating life-threatening childhood allergies to peanuts and other nuts and foods.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.