Monday, May 11, 2015

New Study Suggests Exposing Infants to Peanut Products Could Prevent Allergy

Once a lunchtime staple for many American children, PB & J is disappearing from lunchboxes since the rise of peanut allergies in recent years, an allergy that, for many children, can be life-threatening.
Blog contributed by Kathleen
Zimmerman, MD, Pediatrician

In the US, about 2 percent of children are allergic to peanuts, a figure that has quadrupled since 1997.  As a result the American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend that peanuts be withheld from children until they were 3 years old. However back in 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its policy, when a committee within the AAP concluded that there was no evidence that delaying the introduction of allergenic food protects against the development of allergies.

Policy or not, many parents are still avoiding allergenic foods for their young children, but surprising evidence from a recent study is proving the AAP policy shift to be the correct approach.

The study, involving infants 4 to 11 months old who had shown a high risk of developing a peanut allergy, indicated that feeding these children peanut products early in life may prevent a peanut allergy.  In the study, half of the children’s parents were told to avoid peanuts, while the others fed their children peanut products regularly.  After 5 years, only 1.9 percent of children who were fed peanuts were allergic to them, compared to 13.7 in the group that avoided peanuts.

According to Dr. Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College, London and leader of the study, not feeding infants peanut products “could have been in part responsible for the rise in peanut allergies we have seen.”

While there is no evidence whether allergies will develop if regular feeding of peanuts is stopped, the results from this study are promising.  As attitudes shift in light of recent evidence, peanuts may start popping up in lunchboxes once again.

Here are some tips to stay safe:

  • Do not feed whole peanuts to infants.  Because of the choking risk, opt for peanut butter or other foods.
  • Get an allergy test if your baby has one of these risk factors for allergy:
    • A sibling with food allergy
    • Had previous allergy to foods
    • Has severe eczema
  • Always try one new food at a time for at least 3 days at a time and watch for rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, or any sign of reaction to that food. 
  • Before feeding peanut products to your child, see your doctor for an allergy test to determine whether your child already has a peanut allergy.
  • Be aware of other children’s allergies.  Always inquire before bringing snacks or lunches that contain peanut products around other children.