Can you prevent a peanut allergy? You might – if you feed little ones peanut products early.
Peanut allergies can seem very scary. They happen when a child’s immune system reacts badly to a protein in peanuts. When a child with a peanut allergy eats peanuts, he or she can have a life-threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock.
Many parents think they can keep their child from getting a peanut allergy if he or she doesn’t eat peanuts as a baby. But recent research now shows kids are better off if they eat peanut products very early in life.
Take the LEAP
Kristen Bruno, MD, a Washington University Clinical Associates pediatrician with Purely Pediatrics says, “The Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) Study focused on the prevention of food allergy in children by introducing peanuts early (less than one year old), rather than later.”
“Feeding infants peanut products from ages four to six months may prevent them from developing a peanut allergy,” adds Avraham Beigelman, MD, a Washington University pediatric allergist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Doing this may protect children from having a peanut allergy and is not harmful.”
SIGNS YOUR BABY MIGHT BE A HIGH-RISK FOR PEANUT ALLERGY
Babies at a high-risk for peanut allergy should be evaluated by an allergist before eating peanut products -- to be sure they are not already allergic to peanuts.
Babies at high-risk include those with a diagnosed egg allergy or severe eczema – a skin problem that causes dry, itch skin. Babies with severe eczema need prescription medications to treat the problem. If your child takes prescription medications for eczema, DO NOT introduce peanut products unless you are in the office of your pediatrician or allergist.
EAT THE RAINBOW
Dr. Bruno’s recommendation for her patients, “I tell parents to breastfeed their healthy baby until he or she is six months old, and then let’s give peanut butter, let’s give eggs, let’s try anything you want to feed him or her.”
It’s best to add new foods to your baby’s diet slowly -- introduce one new food at a time (at one week intervals). If your child does have a reaction, you know what caused it.
Foods such as eggs and wheat can also cause allergies. These foods should be introduced early in life, as well—as long as they are given to your baby in addition to breastfeeding. They should never replace breast milk.
Signs a baby or young child might have a food allergy include:
- Wheezing and coughing
These signs will show up usually within a few minutes of eating the food and almost always within two hours after eating. If you suspect a severe allergic reaction, call 911 IMMEDIATELY.
HOW TO TREAT ALLERGIES
If your child has an allergy to peanuts or any other food, he or she should avoid it completely. Read food labels carefully. When you go to restaurants, ask questions about what’s in a dish and how it was prepared. Also, tell your child’s teachers and school administrators so they know how to keep your child safe. Never let your child take a food sample in a grocery store – it is not worth the risk.
All children with food allergies MUST have a written Food Allergy Action Plan detailing when to use Epinephrine. Two autoinjectors of epinephrine must be immediately available for a child at all times – because 20% of children who have an allergic reaction need a second dose after the initial dose of epinephrine. This medicine can save a child’s life if he eats or comes in contact with a food he is allergic to.
Dr. Bruno adds, “New guidelines encourage more aggressive use of epinephrine as opposed to giving Benadryl as the first line medication.”
Your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric allergist to work as a team in many cases of children with severe food allergies and eczema.`
Looking for a pediatrician? Dr. Bruno is accepting new patients, please call (314) 454-5500 for an appointment.
Purely Pediatrics (WUCA)
St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center
13001 N. Outer Forty Rd., Suite 330,
Town & Country, MO 63017
Visit StLouisChildrens.org/FAME to download the food allergy and management education (FAME) toolkit, developed by St. Louis Children’s Hospital, which offers more helpful information about food allergies. To find an allergist who can help your child with food allergies, call St. Louis Children’s Hospital at (314) 454 KIDS (5437) or toll-free at (800) 678- KIDS.