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Peanut allergy - a common cause of anaphylaxis

New Research Tackles How to Reduce the Risk of Food Allergy

New research and guidelines suggest that introducing peanuts to infants as young as four months old may significantly reduce the risk of children developing a peanut allergy–a common cause of a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

“It has really reset the guidelines for how we introduce peanuts and some of these foods in pediatrics and how we counsel patients,” said Shahnaz Fatteh, M.D., assistant clinical professor at NSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and a specialist in allergy and immunology.

“We are looking at how we can advise our patients more effectively about when to introduce certain foods, when they should be provided, and at what quantity? There has been a lot of misunderstanding about when to introduce peanuts. This is the first time that we’ve had really defined guidelines. The guidelines being developed will help us create timely, primary prevention of these allergies.”

Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP), a 2015 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that sustained consumption of peanuts during an infant’s first 11 months of life resulted in a 81 percent reduction of peanut allergy at age 5 compared to children who had avoided peanut. A follow-up study found that introducing peanuts to infants between 6 and 11 months old was associated with the highest rates of peanut tolerance.

“These studies help us understand that we can introduce and obtain peanut tolerance for our patients at an earlier age than we previously thought,” Fatteh said. By doing so, “we can reduce the number of incidents and our primary prevention of [developing] peanut allergies can become a reality.” 

An estimated 20 percent of Americans suffer from some form of allergy. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from hives, itching, swelling, rashes, and vomiting to anaphylaxis–most commonly caused by certain foods, medications, and insect stings. In addition to peanut, other major food allergens include milk, egg, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish, and crustacean shellfish.

With research and the development of new guidelines, “it is exciting for us to have something meaningful that has already been published and that we can start sharing with our clinicians,” Fatteh said of the LEAP studies. “This will translate to other foods.”

Other tips to avoid or manage a severe allergic reaction:

  • Epinephrine is the medication used to treat severe allergic reactions. People suffering from severe allergies should carry the appropriate doctor-recommended dosage at all times.
  • Consult with a physician and develop an age-appropriate plan for how to manage an allergy and how to prepare for an emergency.
  • Learn how to interpret ingredient lists on food labels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  requires food labels to list which of the eight allergens are ingredients in prepared foods. The law does not require specific wording for warning labels, such as ‘may contain trace amounts.’

Read about NSU's pharmaceutical research on creating a new epinephrine tablet.

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