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Cracking the Shell on Peanut Allergies | May 13, 2009

My children had all kinds of allergies when they were young—to any green vegetable, any leafy vegetable, anything that swam in a previous life or anything that couldn’t be dipped in ketchup. Sound familiar?

The truth about food allergies is that only eight foods account for 90% of allergic reactions in the United States: Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shell fish. (So the kids were right about the swimming thing.) Most food allergies are acquired in the first year or two of life and approximately two to three percent of all school children suffer from a food allergy.

Peanut allergies are on the top of the list and appear to have become more prevalent over the years. These changes may be linked to an increased number of vegetarians and children consuming peanut butter. While many children outgrow allergies to other foods such as milk or eggs, most don't outgrow peanut allergy as they get older. An allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure. Signs and symptoms range from a mild stomach ache, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, swelling of the throat or tongue and difficulty breathing, to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can constrict the airways and block breathing.

The focus on increased peanut allergies has sparked radical movements such as peanut bans on airlines and in schools. Peanut allergies can be successfully managed through education, information and a team approach. The team should be compromised of parents, the child, health professionals and childcare/school personnel. They need to work together to develop a plan for avoiding peanuts and for managing an allergic reaction. Children with peanut allergies should be encouraged not to trade foods and childcare and school staff should develop an action plan for an accidental exposure. Child care/school lunch personnel and parents can work together to identify foods that the child should avoid, and come up with appropriate substitutes. Foods and ingredients to avoid if you or your child have peanut allergies include:

Arachis oil, artificial tree nuts, beer nuts, any peanuts, peanut oil, peanut flour or meal, egg rolls, ground nuts, high-protein food, hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, marzipan and nougat. Additional products that may contain peanuts include, baked goods, candy, cashew butter, cheesecake crusts, chili, chocolate candy, frozen desserts, ice cream, pie crusts, salad dressing, sauces and sunflower seeds.

If your child has a peanut allergy or if you are an adult who has had a reaction, tell your doctor about it, even if it was minor. Tests can help confirm a peanut allergy, so you can take steps to avoid future reactions. For additional resources on allergies, check out the following sites: Food Allergy Nework http://www.foodallergy.org or The American Dietetic Association http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/index.html.