Can Parents Stop Peanut Allergies Before They Start?
Children sometimes outgrow certain food allergies. But peanut allergies usually don’t go away over time. Allergic reactions to peanuts can be very serious and even fatal in some cases. It's no wonder many parents have taken extreme steps to keep their children "peanut-free."
However, health experts warn that avoiding possible allergens doesn't really help prevent allergies. Also, research now suggests exposing babies to the protein in peanuts may keep them from developing a peanut allergy.
There are a few long-standing ideas about preventing allergies:
Breastfeed infants. Drinking only breast milk until 4 to 6 months old gives infants the most health benefits. This is particularly true for babies at high risk for allergies, such as a family history of food allergies. Breast milk is less likely than formula to trigger an allergic reaction. It can also help strengthen the immune system. But breastfeeding isn't always possible. In that case, using hydrolyzed infant formulas instead of cow’s milk formulas can help prevent allergies.
Introduce foods one at a time. Once babies are 4 to 6 months old, they can begin sampling a wide range of foods. Starting new foods one at a time can help you see right away if a food could be causing an allergic reaction. Children who have never had a reaction should not avoid potential allergens. This has no proven benefit.
Medical experts say there is no need for healthy children to avoid potential allergens like peanuts. New research takes this one step further. It now suggests exposing babies to the protein in peanuts could keep them from developing peanut allergies.
This finding came from a study of babies 4 to 11 months old who were at high risk for peanut allergy: They had severe eczema (a type of dermatitis), an egg allergy, or both conditions. Their parents gave them small amounts of peanut protein from a peanut butter product every week. The researchers found these babies were about 86% less likely to develop an allergy by the age of five.
Their conclusion: Exposing kids to peanuts when they're infants helps them develop a tolerance to the nuts so they don’t develop an abnormal reaction.
This finding could change the way parents and doctors manage allergies in kids. However, parents should still be very cautious about how and when they give their children peanut products. Here's why: The study did not include babies who already showed very strong signs of having a peanut allergy. So it's not clear whether exposing these children to peanuts is safe or effective.
Important factors to keep in mind:
Talk with your baby's doctor before giving your child any peanut products. This is especially true for children with eczema or egg allergies. They are at greater risk for a peanut allergy.
It's not safe to feed infants and young children peanuts because they can choke on them. Babies do not have the teeth needed to chew peanuts well enough. The muscles used to swallow are also weaker in young children. Peanuts can get trapped in babies' airways, keeping them from breathing.
Don't feed your baby or young child any peanut products on your own. Ask your pediatrician how and when this can be done safely.
The doctor will consider your child's and family medical histories and stage of development to help decide when he or she is ready to be exposed to peanut protein. They can also help you choose a good source of peanut protein. This should be done under a doctor’s supervision only. Your child’s doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist