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Can Food Allergies Be Prevented In Kids?

A research study suggests food allergies prevented in kids. Learn our Allergist and Immunologist, Dr. Jennifer Petts, take on it.


Iowa Clinic Allergist and Immunologist, Dr. Jennifer Petts discusses a study that suggests food allergies could be prevented in kids.

Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe
Food Allergy

A research study says maybe so. In February 2015, the news rippled across the medical community, in news media, and undoubtedly in households where kids have food allergies: “Results of a clinical trial to prevent food allergy in high-risk infants showed that peanut allergy may be prevented early in life,” explains Jennifer Petts, D.O.

That's big news, especially when you consider that food allergies are now such a big problem that many schools have banned the offending foods out of fear that a child will go into anaphylaxis—a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. “The prevalence of food allergies has nearly doubled over the last 15 years in the United States,” says Dr. Petts. In addition to the obvious and serious health ramications, a peanut allergy can create social obstacles for patients and economic burdens for their families—and it is rarely outgrown. “For years, we advised new parents to withhold allergenic foods until their child reached one year old. But because we continued to see an increase in food allergies, this strategy fell out of favor,” says Petts. In 2008, recommendations for avoiding highly allergenic foods were withdrawn.

LEAP STUDY SUGGESTS WITHHOLDING FOODS MAY INCREASE ALLERGIES

Published in The New England Journal of Medicine in February, the Learning Early About Peanut allergy (LEAP) study was conducted by a collaborative network of researchers at Kings College London. Among their ndings, the researchers concluded that withholding peanuts from infants' diets may increase the likelihood they will develop a peanut allergy.

Researchers randomly assigned 640 infants with severe eczema, an egg allergy, or both to consume or avoid peanuts until ve- years-old of age. Children with eczema and/or an egg allergy are considered at high-risk for developing a peanut allergy.

One study group ate a peanut-containing snack at least three times a week; the other group did not eat any foods containing peanut. By the end of the study, “The difference between the two groups was staggering,” says Dr. Petts. “Among the kids who avoided peanuts completely, 17 percent developed peanut allergies. But just 3 percent of the kids who regularly consumed peanuts developed the allergy,” she says.

According to the study's authors, these results suggest that withholding peanut may have contributed to the rise in peanut and other food allergies in the first place

PETTS RECOMMENDS INTRODUCING INFANTS TO ALLERGENICS EARLY

“There's more research needed, but it appears that introducing allergenic foods—and all foods in general—should occur before the age of one year,” says Petts. In addition to peanut, common allergens include shellfish, egg, cow's milk, wheat, soy, and tree nuts such as cashews and almonds.

“We can't say this with 100-percent certainty, but the LEAP study supports the theory that the human body is designed to develop tolerance to new antigens for only a set period of time, which may be the first year of life. After that, the body may develop an unfavorable immune response, or allergy, to those foods,” she says.

Petts adds, “It's important to continually keep those foods in the diet. Based on the LEAP study, giving your child these foods several times a week is probably the best thing you can do to help prevent your child from developing a food allergy mediated by IgE (antibodies produced by the immune system).”

If you notice an allergic reaction, take appropriate action. “If the reaction is minor, such as minimal hives, you can give your child an appropriate dose of Benadryl. But if your child has extensive hives, diarrhea in conjunction with hives or wheezing, or any combination of hives, swelling of the lips or tongue, throat closure, wheezing, vomiting, abdominal pain, or loss of consciousness, it is a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1; your child needs an injection of epinephrine immediately,” she advises.

If you believe you or your child may have—or may have outgrown—an allergy, a simple skin test will help you know for certain. To schedule a skin test with a board-certified Allergist, contact The Iowa Clinic at 515-875-9450.

FACTS ABOUT KIDS & FOOD ALLERGIES

  • Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy among children.
  • There is no cure for food allergies, although certain medications can alleviate symptoms.
  • Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, or shellfish are most likely to cause anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur within seconds or up to one hour after exposure to the allergen. Call 9-1-1 immediately, even if symptoms subside: Approximately one-third of people have a second reaction hours later.
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