Nut allergies can be a dangerous — and potentially fatal — threat to sufferers. Unfortunately, the number of kids developing them is soaring.
Between 1995 and 2005, for example, the amount of children with a peanut allergy tripled, with health experts labeling it an "epidemic."
Now, new research has suggested that eating peanut products as a baby could help children avoid developing a peanut allergy — backing up the conclusion of a previous study.
The New England Journal of Medicine study looked at 550 children deemed prone to developing a peanut allergy, because they'd already suffered eczema as babies.
It was found that if a child consumed peanut snacks within the first 11 months of life, then they were less likely to develop an allergy. What's more, the effects were "long-lasting" — at the age of 5, the child could afford to stop eating the food for an entire year, and still maintain no allergy.
Lead author Prof Gideon Lack said that part of the problem was that people lived in a "culture of food fear."
"I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance," he told the BBC News website. In the U.K. and U.S. combined, 20,000 babies a year are being diagnosed with peanut allergies.
We spoke to Dr. George Du Toit, who is working on the study, about how you should introduce peanuts to children:
We've read the research showing babies should eat peanut products — but how should parents introduce them to their children?
Children may begin eating peanuts as soon as they have weaned and are able to eat and enjoy complementary feeds; for most children this is around four months of age. Solid foods should be avoided because of the risk of choking.
Peanuts are a healthy food and for non-allergic infants represents a healthy food choice. For children with troubling eczema or where another food allergy is suspected or has been diagnosed, then allergy testing should be performed before peanuts are introduced.
If the results of the tests show a low-moderate allergy, then families should discuss the option of their infant undergoing a supervised challenge in a safe medical setting. If the results are high and suggest allergy then avoidance of peanuts is recommended.
If my child has a reaction to a peanut product what should I do?
Remove the food source, and wipe the baby's skin and mouth clear of the food. For mild reactions immediately administer an antihistamine. For more severe reactions, call 911 for medical assistance and of course, if available, administer an injectable adrenaline device.
Where can I get my child allergy tested for peanuts and other contagions?
To find an allergist near you, visit the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Private consolations with allergy specialists are available at The Portland Hospital, where Dr. Du Toit also holds clinics.
Dr. George Du Toit is Consultant Paediatric Allergist at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children.