With more and more classrooms and daycare facilities going "nut-free" to help ensure the safety of children with severe peanut and tree nut allergies, you may be wondering what is behind the rise of severe and even life-threatening nut allergies. While scientists disagree on the precise cause of this uptick in diagnoses, a new study suggests there may be a way to prevent nut allergies (or at least reduce their severity) in children -- and the method involved runs counter to nearly everything parents have been told about these types of allergies. Read on to learn more about what can cause peanut allergies, as well as how you can potentially reduce your child's risk of developing a peanut or tree nut allergy.
Can peanut allergies be prevented?
Although many pediatricians and medical experts have recently recommended that babies and young children should avoid exposure to common food allergens (like peanuts, eggs, and gluten) until they're old enough to communicate any adverse reaction, a recent study suggests this may not be the best course of action. Instead, consistent and minor exposure to these allergens (particularly peanuts) could actually reduce the risk of developing allergies later. For those who have already shown some sensitivity to peanuts or tree nuts, low-level exposure could prevent this sensitivity from turning into a full-blown anaphylactic reaction.
Will these methods work if your child already has peanut allergies?
Regardless of whether your child has shown signs of an allergic reaction to peanuts or tree nuts, you'll want to consult your child's pediatrician before making any major changes to his or her diet.
However, the principles cited in this study are already used by immunologists and allergists to help reduce the symptoms of other types of allergies in vulnerable individuals. Allergy shots are often effective in reducing or eliminating unpleasant reactions to pollen, dust, pet dander, and other potential irritants -- these shots operate by placing a tiny bit of the allergen in your bloodstream, forcing your body to mount an allergic reaction. As time goes on and exposure continues, your body will stop reacting so strongly to the allergen, and may even become immune to it.
While there are no clear links between the common instruction to parents to avoid peanut exposure for infants and toddlers and the exponential rise in peanut allergies among young children over the past few years, it is possible that this strict avoidance has actually contributed to the uptick in reported allergies. If peanut allergies run in your family or you suspect your child already has such an allergy, you'll want to make a pediatrician appointment to determine whether mild exposure to peanuts at a young age could help your child avoid living a nut-free life.
For more information, contact Allergy Asthma & Immunology Center or a similar location.