It’s hard to ignore the rise of allergies in children these days. More and more children are shown to have allergies, and they’re having allergic reactions to more and more factors.
As this trend has developed, many of us here at Education International have been wondering whether the increase in cases is actually due to an increase in allergic children, or if it is merely a result of more screenings carried out earlier in life.
While both are probably true to some extend, new research is pointing to a rise in the prevalence of allergies that can’t be explained by improved screenings. Researchers have concluded a study which examined severe peanut allergies in children. They had some surprising, but we think encouraging, findings to share.
Here’s how the study worked.
The researchers focused on children with a high risk of developing severe peanut allergies. They already knew that some percentage of children are genetically predisposed to develop severe peanut allergies, and that the predisposition is measurable through other symptoms, such as hives. However, they wanted to measure whether these predispositions were always translating into full-blown nut allergies with severe reactions, and what the factors were which contributed to that translation.
So, there were two groups of children involved in the study. One group of children were kept in total isolation from peanuts, which has been the traditional wisdom in parenting for years now. The other group of children were introduced to small amounts (about a teaspoon) of peanut butter starting at about 6 months. They were fed the nut butter under careful supervision, to make sure that any reactions were resolved by doctors on hand. This continued until the children reached the age of 5.
The results were dramatic. The children who were introduced to tiny amounts of peanut butter on a regular basis were 80% less likely to have developed an actual nut allergy by age 5 than those children who were kept away from nut products. And remember, these children all had the same predisposition toward severe nut allergies from birth.
So, it turns out that small, monitored peanut exposure is actually good for reducing severe reactions in most children. Now, we want to caution parents that 20% of those children in the peanut intake group did develop the severe allergies, so this isn’t a cure-all by any means. But the study joins a growing body of research which suggests that by completely preventing exposure to many environmental factors like nuts, pollen, and other allergens, we may be doing more harm than good to many of our allergy-prone children.
These results are scheduled to be published as part of the government’s updated recommendations on allergy prevention and treatment in the next year. In the meantime, researchers have recommended that parents consult their doctor about the study, establish whether their child has a predisposition for severe allergies, and begin to introduce small amounts of nut products under careful supervision to see whether you might be able to prevent your child developing a life-threatening allergy later in their development.
Don’t be scared to break the stigma around nut exposure, but be sure to keep in careful accordance with the latest research, and ask your pediatrician about how they’d recommend you introduce nut products with your child.
In short, while this study has shown that some small percentage of children will inevitably develop severe nut allergies, we are hopeful that carefully monitored exposure to potential allergens may help to lessen the spread and scope of severe allergies in our children worldwide.
We’ll be sure to keep you up to speed with the governmental guidelines when they’re published.