What that peanut allergy study really said | TapGenes
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by Marijke Vroomen Durning

If you have a child with a peanut allergy, you know how easy it can be for your child to be exposed to something that can make him or her seriously ill. Peanut products such as peanut oil or peanut flour can be in many recipes, and peanut butter can even be someone’s “secret ingredient” to add flavor.

Kathy Fell, whose 22-year-old daughter was diagnosed with peanut allergy when she was two-years old, quickly learned that she could never take anything for granted when it came to ingredients.

“You always have to ask,” she says. “Always read labels, even on products you have bought before. Manufacturers change recipes without warning, especially in baked goods.”

Allergies to peanuts can range from mild to severe, and Fell’s daughter was on the severe end of the scale. Even ingesting the smallest bite will cause her to have a reaction.

Last month, a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that exposing young children to peanut protein lessened the risk of the children of developing a peanut allergy. And while the media took this story and ran with it, it’s important understand what exactly the study said.

The researchers did not say to start feeding young children peanuts or peanut products to reduce their risk of peanut allergy. If a parent has a child who is at high risk of a peanut allergy, peanut initiation should be medically supervised, registered dietician Lori Zanini says.

“This study was conducted in infants with high-risk of developing peanut allergy,” she explained. These were children aged from four months to 11 months who had eczema and/or an egg allergy. They were divided into two groups: one group was exposed to peanut protein until they were five-years old, the other group completely avoided peanut exposure. The researchers found that those children who had been exposed to the peanut protein had a lower risk of developing an allergy to peanuts.

Fell has mixed feelings about the study.

“When our daughter was diagnosed, we were told that had she not been exposed to peanut at a young age she might not have developed the allergy! And she did have a reaction at a very young age (before diagnosis) to even very small bites of peanut containing foods. It was even suggested that being exposed to peanut through my breast milk could have contributed to her allergy,” she explains. “So it seems like now the advice is being completely reversed and I really don’t know what to think of it. Certainly I would like to not feel the guilt I have had over the idea that perhaps I exposed my daughter to this allergy by what I ate during and after my pregnancy.”

For parents who are navigating the waters of keeping peanut products or other allergens away from their children, Fell offers these tips:

  • For parties, ask the host to keep wrappers/containers from snacks so we could check the ingredients.
  • Check out restaurant menus online ahead of time, but still always check with the restaurant when you place your order.
  • Avoid buffets; there is too much chance of cross contamination.
  • When traveling, it’s often safest and the most comfortable to stick to chain restaurants with menus you knew.
  • Also when traveling, book a suite with kitchen or at least a room with fridge and microwave, so some meals can be eaten in the room.
  • Certain vacation destinations, such as Disney World, are very helpful in accommodating people with allergies.
  • Although you are your child’s advocate, you must teach your child to speak up and to know how to use the EpiPen.
  • Join a support organization, such as FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). They provide an on-line newsletter, and valuable support and information.

Marijke Vroomen Durning is a registered nurse, health blogger and author of the forthcoming book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Drugs & How to Take Them Safely. 

TapGenes Take Away: Exposure to peanuts is not the magic cure to nut allergies. Pay careful attention to new research and consult your physician to discuss concerns you have about food allergy symptoms, treatments, exposure and prevention.


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