Peanut allergies soar and appear much earlier

Scientists in the U.S. have voiced their concern that peanut allergies are appearing much earlier in children.

According to a new study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center, parents are introducing their children to such foods much earlier than a decade ago, and as a result potentially deadly peanut allergies are also appearing at a much younger age.

They are concerned because peanut allergies in children have doubled in the same period and they are recommending that parents delay introducing their children to peanuts and other potential allergens until they are older.

Lead author Todd Green, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, says when children are older it is easier to manage bad reactions as they can tell you how they feel.

Dr. Green was a postdoctoral fellow at Duke where the research was conducted before joining Children's Hospital.

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, as many as 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, which include milk, soy, eggs, wheat, tree nuts, fish and shellfish and each year 200 Americans die from a severe allergic reaction to something they ate.

About 1.8 million Americans are allergic to peanuts and in Britain peanut allergies have tripled in the last 20 years; one in every 70 primary school children in Britain is affected and figures are similar for Australia and Canada.

Sufferers often also have other allergic conditions such as asthma, eczema or hayfever.

The study compared a group of children born during or after 2000 to a group of children born between 1995 and 1997.

The researchers found the younger group reported exposure to peanuts at 12 months, and reported their first adverse reaction at 14 months, whereas a decade ago first exposure was at 22 months, and first adverse reactions occurred at 24 months.

The Duke researchers are now working on another study to determine if the early introduction of small amounts of peanut and other potentially offending food products could prevent food allergies by desensitizing children and helping their immune system mount an appropriate response.

Dr. Wesley Burks, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center, and the study's senior author, says the findings should be a wake-up call to all parents of young children and provide a valid reason for delaying the introduction of products containing peanuts.

Experts say more research needs to be done to determine why peanut allergy in children is increasing and how to stop this increase as it is a life-long condition and causes the majority of severe or fatal allergic reactions from foods, particularly in teenagers.

They suggest that strict avoidance of peanuts and peanut products in allergy-prone families is the only way to avoid an allergic reaction and say that children avoid peanuts for the first three years of life if immediate family members have food allergies.

The research is published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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