The incidence of nut allergy is on the increase in Western societies, as is the attention it receives from the public and from the media, yet little research has been carried out on the impact of living with the condition.
A University of Leicester research project is now to look at the views and experiences of children and their families living with nut allergy, which accounts for the majority of severe food-related allergic reactions.
Peanut allergy, which currently affects around 1 per cent of children, is the most common food trigger of anaphylaxis.
Funded by MAARA (Midlands Asthma and Allergy Research Association), Dr Emma Pitchforth, of the University’s Department of Health Sciences, is carrying out a qualitative study involving interviews with children and their parents. Depending on the age of the child, they may be interviewed separately or with their parents.
The two-year research project is being carried out with colleagues Dr David Luyt and Dr Emilia Wawrzkowicz, consultant paediatricians involved in the management of childhood allergies.
From these investigations, the team hope to understand better the impact on family and everyday life of living with these allergies. They will be looking at sources of information and strategies families use to cope.
The interviews will be audio-recorded (with permission) and the resulting transcriptions will help the researchers to identify recurring themes. All data is anonymous and confidential.
Dr Pitchforth commented: “First allergic reactions to nuts usually develop in children at a young age and do not resolve as they get older. This means that for those affected nut allergy is a permanent, potentially life-threatening condition.
“Clinical management of nut allergy typically involves educating children and their families to avoid all products containing nuts. They need to learn to recognise early signs of allergic reaction and to administer self-injectable epinephrine when they need to.
“The number of deaths resulting from nut allergy is extremely low, but it is a risk and patients are told to avoid all types of nuts and their traces, and to carry an ‘Epi-pen’ at all times, in case they suffer an anaphylactic shock.”