Peanut Allergy

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN 

Why are food allergies and particularly peanut allergy on the rise? Researchers have been trying to understand why peanut allergies are on the ascendance and their exact causes are still mysterious.

Studies show that the possible factors for food allergies, specifically peanuts, may include foods being introduced too early in life, mothers consuming certain products during pregnancy and trace exposures due to food contamination at the production source. It is also possible that the allergy is environmentally induced. For most people, it is a life-long allergy; however, peak age for anaphylactic reaction appears to be between 14 and 17 years of age.

What type of progress is being made? 

Progress is being made on two fronts: one, through desensitising a child by slowly increasing exposure to nuts. The other is by utilising enzymes which neutralise the protein causing such reactions in the first place.

What percentages of children have food allergies? 

Peanut allergies account for up to 25 per cent of all severe allergic, or anaphylactic, reactions to food. In recent years, the number of food allergic individuals has doubled; it is, for example, upwards of 8 per cent in US children.

How does cross-sensitivity affect people? 

Cross-sensitivity is a major issue. Many children with peanut allergies react to other legumes, such as soy and chick peas. Many peanut allergic individuals also react to certain nuts and seeds. So, it is important to understand that dealing with one allergy will not reduce allergic reactions to all foods.

What is the process being tested by researchers? 

Researchers are working on a process that is based on food enzyme technology which naturally breaks down offending proteins responsible for the food allergy that occurs through accidental ingestion. It is imperative that individuals who suffer with severe food allergies should remain vigilant, since 75 per cent of all allergic reactions occur through accidental ingestion. 

How is the diagnosis of food allergies made? 

Diagnosis is made by a physician and can be confirmed by using tests such as a RAST IGE blood test, skin testing, or through a food challenge which is considered the gold standard.

Things To Do

  • With the festival season and the New Year coming up parents should be particularly careful. Avoid candy bars and inspect anything that your child may consume once you are home
  • Ask your doctor about measures that one should take and make sure that you, or someone who has been trained can quickly seek medical help in an emergency
  • Be aware that several foods such as chocolate bars may be contaminated
  • Grills in restaurants where peanut oil might be brushed on could be a source of cross contamination.

Symptoms of food allergy can occur within minutes and occasionally within hours. For many, it starts with a tingling on lips, or mouth, and chills. From there, the throat may swell, or eyes may tear, or water. The best advice is strict avoidance.

If you do not know all the possible ways in which food has been prepared, or what the ingredients may be, avoid them.

When going to a restaurant, or school, carry an ‘allergy card,’ which can be given to the waiter, teacher etc., instructing them on your allergies.

Prior to leaving home make sure you carry your doctor prescribed ‘allergy pack’ with you.

Exercising immediately after ingesting a potential allergen has been known to accelerate allergic reactions.

For many children trace amounts of exposure can have lasting effects in terms of chronic infection, rash and asthma-like symptoms.

Once a child has been exposed, or has had a severe reaction, inflammation may be present in their system for several weeks. This poses a significant threat for asthmatics due to increased airway responsiveness.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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