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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. Hailed as one of the most deadly food allergies, peanut allergy affects approximately 400,000 children in the United States. While reactions can be severe, and in some cases fatal, a recent study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), found that accidental peanut exposures have likely declined significantly compared with earlier studies.
The study, which researched 782 children with persistent peanut allergy, found a relatively low rate of accidental exposures leading to allergic reactions, seven percent per year, compared with prior studies reporting up to 33 percent nut or peanut reactions per year.
Although our lower reaction rates may be, in part, due to different study methods, it is likely there has been a true decrease in accidental peanut exposures in children over the past 10 to 15 years, said allergist Dara Neuman-Sunshine, MD, lead study author and ACAAI member. Greater public awareness, stricter laws regarding food labeling and the implementation of prevention strategies seem to be working.
Researchers also discovered a strong association between higher levels of peanut-specific immunoglobulin E (P-IgE) and the severity of allergic reactions. High initial P-IgE levels in children significantly increased the odds of a more severe allergic reaction when peanut-allergic children were exposed to peanuts. However, severe reactions can occur at all levels of P-IgE, so P-IgE cannot be used to direct a treatment plan.
While there has been a decline in accidental peanut exposure, it is still important that parents and children be sure to avoid contact. According to ACAAI, peanuts are one of the food allergens most commonly associated with sudden and life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is the only course of treatment for anaphylaxis and must be administered quickly. It is often prescribed by board-certified allergists for use during emergency events, and can be life-saving.
Peanut allergy is a serious disease that should be diagnosed and treated by an allergist, said Dr. Neuman-Sunshine. Allergists can help patients with peanut allergies manage their condition and develop a treatment plan in case of accidental exposure.
Families with peanut allergic children should be sure to avoid products that bear precautionary statements for peanuts on the label. These include some sauces and marinades, cereals, candies, cookies, cakes and ice cream. Soy nut or sunflower seed butter can serve as substitutes for recipes where peanut butter might be included.