News Brief by Akash Pillai
Tree nut and peanut allergies are the leading cause of fatal allergic reactions in the U.S., and just between 1997 and 2008, the number of children with these allergies has tripled. This has prompted much investigation into the factors influencing the development of this allergy. Children at high-risk for developing peanut or tree nut allergies include those with a strong family history of allergies or eczema. Previously, the consensus was that parents should avoid feeding their children food containing peanuts so that their risk for developing allergy would be lessened. However, a major 5-year study published in 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that high-risk children exposed to peanut butter between 4 and 11 months of age were 80% less likely to develop the allergy by age 5 than those who weren’t exposed. Even more importantly, a 1-year follow up study of the same group of children found that the children maintained their tolerance of peanuts even if they stopped eating foods containing them, suggesting that early exposure helped to build a permanent tolerance. But while this strategy shows much promise, further investigation is being carried out to better understand why this occurs. As a result, it is still recommended that parents of high-risk children consult with allergists before exposing children to potentially dangerous allergens.
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