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Peanut Allergies in Children: What Parents Should Be Aware Of

Has your child ever broken out in hives, complained of an upset stomach, or difficulty breathing? He or she might be suffering from food allergies – possibly a peanut allergy.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), food allergies affect approximately 3 million children. Peanuts, along with eggs, milk, wheat, tree nuts and soy, are to blame for 90 percent of allergic reactions occurring in children.

Peanut allergies affect approximately 400,000 school-aged children in the United States alone and have received much attention in recent years. Dr. Nora Lin, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor at Drexel University and private physician at Allergy & Asthma Specialists explains: “Although peanuts are not the most common of food allergies, they get more attention because reactions tend to be more severe.”

Allergy & Asthma Specialists specializes in high-risk food challenges and innovative techniques for the treatment of food allergies, including peanut allergy desensitization and food sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), which reduces a person’s reactivity to an allergen. The process consists of placing a dosage of the food extract under the tongue and holding it for two minutes, before swallowing. The dose is gradually increased over time, in order to improve one’s tolerance to the allergen, with an allergic reaction less likely in the future.

If you suspect or learn that your child has a food allergy, specifically a peanut allergy, what do you need to know to keep him or her healthy?

Know the symptoms and monitor your child’s peanut allergy

The most common symptoms of peanut allergies are stomach pain – including nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramping – as well as a skin reaction (such as an itchy rash or hives), coughing, difficulty breathing, and – the most severe – closing of the throat, also known as anaphylaxis. Ensure that your child has access to an epinephrine auto injection in the case of an emergency.

“Because symptoms can be subtle, it’s not always easy to tell if one is suffering from a peanut allergy specifically,” Dr. Lin says, adding, “This is why it’s especially important for teachers and kids to be aware of the signs.”

Dr. Lin recommends making sure medical forms are updated and seeing the allergist regularly to keep tabs on your child’s peanut allergy. “Because 1 in 5 kids actually outgrows his or her peanut allergy, it is especially important that you have your child’s allergy regularly monitored through skin tests.”

Pay close attention to food labels and restaurant menus

Since peanuts are commonly used as an ingredient in many products by food-manufacturing facilities, you need to be aware of any labels with warning statements, such as “may contain peanuts.”

Dining out in restaurants also presents a challenge, as peanuts often appear as a hidden ingredient used in the preparation of many sauces and marinades. If your child is dealing with a peanut allergy, you need to be particularly careful about eating out in Asian or Mexican restaurants, where peanuts are a common ingredient. Because peanuts are frequently used as a dessert topping, ice cream shops also present a great risk of cross-contamination.

When cooking, other ingredients – such as soy nut and sunflower seed butter products – can be used as a peanut substitute, but because these products are often manufactured in the same facilities as peanuts, you should always be concerned for cross-contamination. Contact food manufacturers with specific questions you may have.

Communicate peanut allergy information to school staff

Alerting your child’s teachers and other school staff of your son or daughter’s peanut allergy is key to avoiding a potential allergic reaction. Bring school administrators a signed medical statement by your child’s physician that identifies the specific food allergy and particular life activities affected by an allergic reaction.

Dr. Lin says there are even fun ways to alert teachers and classmates at school about your child’s peanut allergy. “Allergy alert labels and stickers are available in different colors – and even in the form of bracelets – for everyone to be made aware.”

Apparently, school officials are paying attention to the potential dangers of food allergies. Due to the widespread talk of peanut allergy risks and a recently issued statement by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, according to Dr. Lin, schools have been cutting down on the use of food in school-related functions and celebrations, with games and other activities used instead.

Peanut allergies can definitely present challenges for kids both at home and at school, but by following these tips and taking the necessary precautions, you can help your children stay peanut free and healthy. One day, you might even be pleasantly surprised to find that your child’s peanut allergy is gone for good.

Fellowship-trained, board certified allergists/immunologists at Allergy & Asthma Specialists provide comprehensive allergy and asthma diagnostics and state-of-the-art treatment at offices in Center City Philadelphia, Blue Bell, King of Prussia, Jenkintown, Doylestown, Lansdale, Pottstown, and Collegeville. Schedule today online at www.AllergyandAsthmaWellness.com or call 1-800-86COUGH.