Avoiding Peanuts Might Put Your Child at Risk for Allergies Later
One of Israel’s most popular kid foods is a peanut-based snack called Bamba. It’s so popular that “Bamba” is said to be one of the first words Israeli toddlers learn.
It’s also one of the reasons children in Israel have a much lower incidence of peanut allergies than kids in Western countries, where peanut avoidance is the norm. One study found Jewish children in the United Kingdom were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergies than Jewish children in Israel.
Families that practice peanut avoidance might put their children at higher risk of developing a severe allergy as they grow older.
Peanut allergies — like many other allergies — have a genetic component. If one of a child’s parents has a peanut allergy, the child has an 80% chance of getting it (and boys are more likely to have peanut allergies than girls). Kids with eczema are particularly prone to developing peanut allergies because of the way the body’s immune system reacts.
Peanut allergies are among the most common food allergies among children, along with milk and eggs. Still, it isn’t a terribly large chunk of the overall population with allergies to peanuts or tree nuts — a little over 1%, though that number could be higher.
Life-threatening reactions called anaphylaxis are more rare than getting hit by lightning. But the more common reactions — vomiting, throat constriction, dizziness and shortness of breath — can still be alarming.
For years the practice was to delay introducing peanuts to young children who were at risk for that particular food allergy, which has contributed to a 21% increase in kids with peanut allergies since 2010.
We’ve since figured out that’s not the best path. Five years ago, a new set of recommendations were issued saying that parents, working with health-care providers, should start giving “peanut-enriched foods to children starting at 4 to 6 months old.
Living with a Peanut Allergy
If your child does have a peanut allergy, you know how life-changing it can be. But by taking a few sensible precautions, your child can remain safe inside and outside the home.
- Have an EpiPen available at all times. This is, by far, the most important step you can take to protect your kids. The active drug, epinephrine, makes breathing easier, among other things. Make sure you and your child know how to use it. Your children can carry these with them at school, but your pediatrician may have to fill out a form authorizing it.
- Have an allergy plan for school. Make sure teachers and staff are aware of your child’s allergy, and you need to understand what the school’s policies are for kids with allergies.
- Make sure that parents of your child’s friends know they have a peanut allergy and what to do if your child has a reaction.
- Read food and beverage labels carefully. The federal government requires food packaging to plainly label ingredients that may be allergens, including peanuts, wheat, egg and milk.
- Speaking of labels … be cautious about products such as cosmetics and dog food. They do not fall under the same federal labeling requirements and may contain hidden allergens.
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