Cracking the problem of peanut allergy

Recently I have found parents shell-shocked to ask me questions about peanut allergies. Humorous puns aside, peanut allergies are serious, so let me shell out some information on this topic.

How widespread is peanut allergy?

About 2% of children in the United States are allergic to peanuts and half of those are also allergic to tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews and sometimes even sunflower and sesame seeds. In fact, peanut allergy is the leading cause of food-allergy related deaths in this country.

How to know if your child is affected Usually, the first signs after eating a peanut may be a runny nose, skin rash or a tingly tongue that can progress if untreated to difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure and in turn becoming unconscious. We used to usually recommend not trying a peanut in a child until they were old enough to talk to us. But there is now more recent data to suggest that if there is no known family history of a peanut allergy, then exposing infants to peanut products such as a very thin layer of peanut butter on a cracker when they are old enough to take solids, may reduce the chance of getting a peanut allergy as they get older.

On the other hand, if there is a family history of peanut allergy severe eczema or egg allergy, then it is recommended that you talk with your child’s doctor before introducing your child to peanuts. Usually, a skin or blood test can determine if your child is at risk for a peanut allergy.

Dealing with a diagnosis

If the diagnosis is made, then the best way to deal with this problem is to avoid the foods that trigger it. This requires not just educating a child and family, but friends, relatives, caregivers, and teachers too. It also means checking food labels and letting restaurants know about the allergy, so an accidental exposure is avoided.

If an exposure occurs, peanut-allergic older children and adults should carry a prescribed self-injectable shot of adrenaline with them. The shot should also be available to teachers, school nurses, and parents especially if the child is too young to self-inject themselves. Once the shot is given, the child should be brought to an emergency facility for continued observation and treatment since this is a true medical emergency. A medic alert bracelet is also a good idea.

Hopefully, tips like these will crack open the information you need to know when it comes to dealing with peanut allergies.

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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