More Need to Know Allergy Info
So if I'm pregnant and have a history of seasonal allergies, are there any preventive steps I can take?
Yes. We recommend that women with allergies stay away from highly allergenic foods, like peanuts, while they're pregnant. There is some data that suggests that babies can be sensitized to certain foods in utero. Taking preventive steps during breast-feeding may be even more helpful. We now recommend that nursing moms stay away from peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish, but they should not avoid milk and eggs, since both contain vital nutrients. And don't skip breast-feeding altogether if you're concerned about food allergies; breast milk does have a protective effect on a baby's immune system. But if your baby develops a rash or colic or spits up while nursing, ask your doctor whether something in your diet may be the cause.
Let's talk about peanut allergies, which can produce especially severe reactions. Will a child who's allergic to peanuts be that way his whole life?
That's what we used to think. However, a recent study done in England and a study I did with colleagues at Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, showed that about 20 percent of children under the age of 4 do outgrow their peanut allergy. But if they are still reacting to peanuts after age 4, the chance of their ever outgrowing the allergy is pretty small.
Kids with peanut allergies are at high risk for anaphylactic shock, in which the throat swells up and breathing stops. How common is it?
It's estimated that about 30,000 cases of food-induced anaphylactic shock are treated in emergency rooms each year. Any parent whose child has an allergy this severe should always carry a shot of epinephrine to slow the reaction until the child can get to the E.R.
So when is an appropriate time to start giving a child peanut butter?
If there are no allergies in the family, wait until the child is 2. If one of the parents, especially the mother, has any sort of allergy, then I suggest avoiding peanut butter until age 3. This may determine whether a child develops a lifelong peanut allergy or not.
Are lots of parents really feeding it to kids younger than that?
It's amazing. What's really popular are those orange-cracker snacks with the peanut butter inside. In one study, 80 percent of the children observed had eaten peanut butter by age 1, and 100 percent had had it by age 2, even though their parents were told not to feed their kids peanut butter at all until age 2.
When should parents take their child to see a pediatric allergist?
If we can diagnose an allergy in a child within the first year or so and remove the food from her diet, I believe she's more likely to lose her sensitivity to it.
Will there ever be a food-allergy cure?
Right now we're testing a monthly shot for peanut allergies. You'd need to take it for the rest of your life, but if it proves to be effective, it would protect against all kinds of food allergies. We are also just beginning work on developing a peanut-allergy vaccine.
For more information on food allergies, check out our Food-Allergy Resource Guide.