Peanut allergy is becoming more and more commonplace and has doubled in the last 5 years in Europe and America. It is estimated that peanut allergies affects 1 in 50 infants and the cause is not fully understood.
The majority of allergic reactions to peanut and tree nuts are mild. Hives (nettle rash), eczema and vomiting are the most common complaints in children. However, some allergic reactions to peanut or tree nuts can be severe, causing difficulty in breathing due to asthma or throat swelling, or a drop in blood pressure. This is known as anaphylaxis, and allergy to peanut or tree nuts is one of the most common triggers. In any case where an allergic reaction to a nut is suspected, the patient should be referred by their General Practitioner to an allergy clinic for testing to confirm the diagnosis.
However, researchers may have found a way to stem the tide of peanut allergies and it involves doing the opposite of what we have been doing for years! The new guidelines, issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases last week, recommend giving babies puréed food or finger food containing peanut powder or extract between 4 and 6 months old and doctors say it is safe to do so. Research suggests that giving nuts earlier has the potential to dramatically decrease the numbers of children who will develop nut allergy.
How and when to introduce nuts is based on the varying level of allergy risk;
- For high risk infants who already have eczema, an egg allergy, or both, the expert panel suggest introducing peanut containing foods as early as 4 months old, under the supervision of a health professional who has expertise.
- For moderate risk infants with mild or moderate eczema, parents should introduce peanut foods at around 6 months of age.
- For low risk infants who do not have eczema or a food allergy, parents should introduce peanut containing foods freely into their diets from 6 months old.
- Please note, nuts should not be given to children under 5 years of age due to choking hazard
It is essential to talk to your GP or Registered Dietitian first before challenging peanut containing foods.