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Peanut Allergies: Separate Fact from Fiction

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Peanut Allergies: Separate Fact from Fiction

The holiday season is a time to indulge in sweet treats, many containing nuts. Read on to learn the true facts about peanut allergies.

Parents of peanut allergic children are understandably concerned for the safety of their children—unfortunately, that concern can create additional problems. Labelling your child as peanut allergic without the right information could cause him or her more harm than good.

The fear of allergies

A recent study found that peanut allergic children worried more about having bad reactions than diabetic children, and they had greater anxiety about eating.

Further research also showed that the parents of peanut allergic children believed their children had more impairment in daily life than the parents of children with juvenile arthritis. In other words, the act of labelling a child peanut allergic may have unintended effects such as making the child more anxious and less social.

Dispelling common myths

  • Many parents fear their peanut allergic child will have an attack at a friend’s house, school, or restaurant. Eating out with a peanut allergic child may seem risky but may be gradually becoming less so. The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, in conjunction with Anaphylaxis Canada, has developed training materials on food allergies for its members.
  • Anaphylaxis Canada also makes it clear that just smelling peanut butter does not trigger an allergic reaction—direct contact with peanut products is a must.
  • For many parents of peanut allergic children, an outright ban on peanuts is very appealing. However, the allergic community agrees that bans create a false sense of security. Rather than banning peanuts or other food allergens outright, the Canadian School Board Association recommends that schools designate one room as allergen-free.

Diagnosis is the first step

There is a lot of fuss in the media about the growing epidemic of peanut allergies. Unfortunately, most of the data on peanut allergy frequency is based on self-reporting, not on a medically proven diagnosis.

Anaphylaxis Canada recommends even minor food reactions be investigated by an allergist.

Skin prick test

The skin prick test is done in-office by an allergist. The child is injected with a small amount of peanut under the skin and observed carefully for a reaction.

Blood test

Blood tests measure the number of antibodies produced to peanut proteins. The child is not exposed to peanuts at the time of testing. The number of antibodies decreases with length of time from exposure, so results may not accurately reflect a child’s real reaction to peanut butter.

Food challenge

The child is fed both peanut and a placebo (nonreactive food) some time apart. The child is watched carefully for signs of a reaction. Food challenges must be done in a hospital environment.

Awareness is the next step

The risk of death from peanut allergy is real, particularly for children with asthma. However, the fact remains that accidents and violence are still the greatest threats to child safety.

The message seems clear: we have a responsibility to promote safety in all aspects of a child’s life, not just in our kitchens.

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