Peanut Allergies: A New Study

From the Show: Healthy Children
Summary: A large, national study of food allergies in the U.S. found that more children have allergies, including severe allergies, than previously thought.
Air Date: 3/4/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Jen Kim, MD
sinai headshot hi resDr. Jen Kim joined NorthShore University HealthSystems in January 2014 and is on faculty at the University of  Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. She earned her MD from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, completed internship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis, and finished residency in pediatrics at Children’s Memorial Hospital, where she also completed her fellowship in Allergy & Immunology. She stayed on as faculty at Children’s Memorial (now Lurie Children's of Chicago) where she served as the division’s Clinical Practice Director for five years. In 2010, she moved to New York City to join the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. During her 4 years as part of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, she published studies on the effect of dietary baked milk inclusion in children with milk allergy and served as clinical investigator of the first randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the use of omalizumab in milk oral immunotherapy. 

Dr. Kim is a member of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology and American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology and is a current committee member of the Section of Allergy & Immunology of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She serves as the assistant editor of the AAP Section of Allergy & Immunology Newsletter and provides input regarding allergy and immunology content on the website.
Peanut Allergies: A New Study
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There has been so much talk surrounding peanut allergies in schools and stories of children overcoming various allergies. Peanut allergies currently affect around one to two percent of the American population, but is becoming a public health issue as the prevalence has more than tripled over the last 10 to 20 years.

Large Five-Year Study on Peanut Allergies

With peanut allergies increasing, there’s been a lot of attention on treating and reducing the risk of allergic reactions. While the ultimate goal of a cure is still far off, Dr. Jen Kim of the University of Chicago School of Medicine is excited about a recent large study.

The study aimed to discover how to prevent peanut allergy in high-risk infants. Jewish children in the UK had ten times the occurrence of peanut allergies compared to Jewish children living in Israel. Upon closer inspection, perhaps the most important variable was found in their diet; the Israeli children were given a peanut puff called Bamba, which is best described as a cheese puff with peanut instead of cheese. The study’s researchers hypothesized that early introduction to peanuts may have helped reduce the chance of the infant developing a peanut allergy.

Researchers gathered infants between the ages of four and 11 months who had eczema and/or egg allergies (at high-risk for developing peanut allergy) and instructed half of the group to avoid peanuts until five years old. The other half was instructed to take peanuts three times a week until they turned five. The results were remarkable. Reduction in peanut allergy was up to 80 percent in the group that had peanuts in their diet since infancy.

Should You Introduce Peanuts to Your Infant’s Diet?

Based on these findings, should you begin giving your child peanuts at an early age? Dr. Kim says that while the study’s results are “exciting and promising,” it only involved a specific type of child. It’s still unknown if the results would be different had the child not had eczema or a preexisting food allergy.

Each infant was skin tested before the study to make sure they weren’t already allergic to peanuts. If they were, the infants were removed from the study as the risks were too great. Dr. Kim strongly recommends that your infant has a skin test performed by an allergist if you plan on introducing him or her to peanuts at an early age. While the best age to introduce peanuts is still up for debate, the general feeling is that delaying peanuts until age two or three may not be the best thing to prevent allergies from developing. Instead, earlier (around four months) may be better.

If a child already has a peanut allergy, what is the outlook? While there are ongoing trials and studies searching for the best therapeutic options, there is nothing past the experimental stage and no procedures have been standardized yet. Natural tolerance and kids outgrowing their allergies occurs in less than 20 percent of children, so most children will grow up with peanut allergies throughout the rest of their lives. Currently, the best treatment is still avoidance of the allergen, and treatment of accidental ingestion or reaction with epinephrine.

Dr. Kim also believes that restricting schoolchildren from bringing foods containing peanuts may not be the best thing to do, since there are many more food allergies. Controlling exposure to peanuts should only be put in place with toddlers and young children, argues Dr. Kim. These young children don’t have impulse control, grab things from other children, and may have fewer adults to monitor them.

Most importantly, they may not do as they are told, and might not realize the real danger ingesting peanuts may have on them. With older children, they have better self-control and understand the need to avoid peanuts.

In the accompanying audio segment, Dr. Jen Kim discusses childhood allergies and the best ways to avoid those food that can make your child sick.

Alonso is a long-time health and wellness advocate who loves to write about it. His writing spans the scope of blogs, educational magazines, and books, both on and offline.

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