The age at which children are exposed to peanuts and have an allergic response has dropped significantly over the last decade, despite recommendations that at-risk families avoid exposing children to peanuts during the first three years of life, according to research led by a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC allergist/immunologist.
In a study of peanut-allergic patients between 2000 and 2006, the median age of first peanut exposure and reaction were 14 and 18 months, respectively. In a similar population of patients studied from 1995 to 1997, researchers found that the median age of first exposure and reaction were 22 and 24 months, respectively.
“The results of our study may suggest that AAP guidelines endorsing the delayed introduction of peanuts until age 3 for children with a strong family history of allergies are not being followed widely in the United States,” said Todd Green, MD, first author of the study and an allergist/immunologist at Children’s. “At the same time, the prevalence of peanut allergy among children has reportedly doubled nationwide over the last decade. This could be due both to a higher rate of peanut allergy and to more public awareness and recognition on the part of the medical community.”
According to Dr. Green, further research is ongoing to determine whether early or delayed introduction of peanuts actually promotes tolerance or prevents peanut allergy. Dr. Green conducted this peanut allergy research at an allergy/immunology clinic while in training at Duke University Medical Center, comparing data from 2000–2006 with data reported from the Johns Hopkins University pediatric allergy clinic from 1995–1997.
The researchers found that 82 percent had a first-degree relative with food allergy; 67 percent were allergic to other foods; 66 percent of the peanut-allergic patients were male; 62 percent had asthma; and 57 percent had allergic rhinitis.
Food allergies are on the rise and affect 6 percent to 8 percent of all children under the age of 4, as well as 4 percent of adults, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They cause roughly 30,000 episodes of anaphylaxis and 100 to 200 deaths per year in the United States.
Symptoms of food allergies include vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, hives, swelling, eczema, itching or swelling of the, lips, tongue, or mouth, itching or tightness in the throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing and lowered blood pressure.
Approximately 90 percent of all food allergies in children are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Currently, the only ways to manage food allergies are to avoid the foods that cause reactions and to treat the symptoms caused by allergic reactions.
Results of the study are published in the December issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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