As a member of the legume family, peanut is actually not a “nut” but a legume, directly related to beans. A peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies because the proteins found in peanuts can act as powerful allergens, even when ingested in tiny amounts.
Increase in Prevalence of Peanut Allergy
According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a recent study shows that incidents of peanut allergy in children are rapidly growing, prompting the need for vastly improved standards of care and greater public education. The study, published in the December 2003 issue of Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), revealed that the incidents of peanut allergy in children doubled over a five-year period.
Researchers from the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Research Centre in the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, tested 1,273 children born between September 1, 1994, and August 31, 1996. A questionnaire, completed by the parents, was used to seek information on past and current atopic symptoms such as asthma, hay fever, and eczema, as well as specific questions relating to food allergy, including peanut allergy, and any anaphylactic reactions. This was then followed by a skin prick test to determine if there is a positive response to peanut.
To determine a possible increase in prevalence, the results of the study were compared to a similar study from 1989. The result showed that out of 1,246 children, 3.3% (41 children) had a positive response to peanut during the skin prick test. This is definitely higher compared with the positive response rate of 1.1% in the 1989 study. In addition, children who tested positive to peanut allergy showed a high level of atopy, which is the genetic tendency to develop allergy and asthma symptoms.
Based on the responses from the questionnaire, there was also an increase in reported peanut allergy, from 0.5% to 1.0%.
Cause & Treatment
Scientists believed that there are several reasons for this, including:
- Consumption of peanuts of women during pregnancy
- Infants exposed to peanut through breast milk, which may contain major peanut allergens
- An increase in the number of families who become vegetarian or supplement their diet with vegetarian foods, often containing nuts, particularly peanuts
The study also showed that subjects experienced severe (79%) and frequent reactions (66%) from a peanut allergy. However, despite this severity and frequency, the study found that only 74% of children and 44% of adults sought medical evaluation. Additionally, of those that did seek medical treatment, less than one half were prescribed epinephrine, the drug of choice to control a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
This is a worrisome treatment record at a time when more and more children and families are coming face-to-face with the dangers of peanut allergy,” said Anne Muñoz-Furlong, CEO and founder of FAAN. “Families must be instructed to seek the advice of their doctor, have a written emergency plan in place and never delay seeking treatment when a reaction occurs. The results can be deadly.”
According to FAAN, peanut allergy is responsible for nearly 100 deaths and 15,000 visits to emergency rooms – about half the deaths and emergency room visits caused by all food allergies.
People should pay more attention to peanut allergy if they want to avoid endangering the lives of their children.
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