What Is A Food Allergy?
An allergy is an immune system response to an otherwise harmless food or food component, usually a protein. The body reacts by flooding the system with histamines to fight off what is perceived as an invader in the body. Identifying and treating a reaction quickly is paramount for safety. Common signs and symptoms of food allergy reaction include: hives; itching and swelling of the mouth, throat and eyes; vomiting and diarrhea; difficulty breathing; and reduced blood pressure, weakness, and fainting.
Food allergies are rare. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), about 4 percent of American adults and about 5 percent of American children have a food allergy. Allergies can be caused by more than 170 foods, but nearly 90 percent of food allergies are caused by nine foods: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, etc.), fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, and sesame.
While children outgrow most food allergies; only about 20 percent of people “outgrow” a peanut allergy. It is possible to develop a food allergy at any age.
It is important to consult a board-certified allergist if you suspect you or your child have a food allergy. Allergists can accurately diagnose the allergy and prescribe medication for its treatment. The only completely accurate means of diagnosing a food allergy continues to be a blind food challenge which should only be done by a board-certified allergist in a controlled environment.
Can Peanut Allergies Be Prevented?
Yes! Research shows that introducing peanut foods to infants reduces their likelihood of developing a peanut allergy. Guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommend that parents introduce infant-appropriate peanut foods starting as early as 4-6 months, especially if they are at higher risk for food allergy. This is based on research that showed that early introduction significantly reduced peanut allergy among children at high risk due to severe eczema or egg allergy.(1) The good news is that most babies are not at risk for developing a peanut allergy. The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2) recommend that all babies should be introduced to peanut within the first year of life. For more information and recipes on how to introduce peanuts to babies visit https://preventpeanutallergies.org/how-to-introduce/. The window to prevent peanut allergy is early and small so ‘early and often’ is key!
Do Bans Reduce the Risk of Accidental Exposure?
No. In schools, research has shown that banning peanuts may increase the risk for reactions and does not reduce the frequency of epinephrine use.(3)
For the restaurant industry, best practices include using basic food safety techniques, separating allergens, clearly labeling allergens and avoiding cross contact in kitchens and serving areas. Allergic individuals should notify staff of their food allergy when dining out and be prepared in case of an accidental ingestion.
The good news is common household cleaners will effectively wash away peanut proteins from surfaces. Simple soap and water (but NOT hand sanitizers) will effectively wash peanut proteins from skin.
Learn More About Peanut Allergies, Prevention, Treatments and Research: http://peanutallergyfacts.org/
1 (LEAP) DuToit G, Roberts G, Sayre PH, Bahnson HT, Radulovic S, Santos AF, et al. Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:803-13.
3 Source: https://aacijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1710-1492-10-S1-A32