Children with peanut allergies may be less likely to accidentally eat peanut-containing foods than in years past, but the problem still needs attention, a Canadian study suggests.
In a study of 252 children with peanut allergy, researchers found that over a year, about 14 percent accidentally ingested peanut allergens. That’s lower than what’s been reported in previous studies - suggesting, according to the study authors, that preventive measures are helping.
Greater public awareness of peanut allergy, “safer environments” - like peanut-free schools - and changes in food manufacturing and labeling may all be helping to reduce children’s accidental exposures, study co-author Dr. Ann Clarke told Reuters Health.
But the 14-percent rate shows there’s still room for improvement, according to Clarke, an associate professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal.
What’s more, she and her colleagues found that when children did have moderate to severe reactions to peanuts, they were usually not given epinephrine, a self-injected medication that’s the treatment of choice for serious reactions. And in more than half of these cases, parents and other caregivers failed to seek medical attention.
“Accidental reactions tend to be treated inappropriately,” Clarke said, adding that parents and caregivers may need better education on managing such situations.
She and her colleagues report their results in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.
Peanuts are one of the most common food allergens, and exposure to even trace amounts can trigger sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions. Symptoms range from itchy, red skin and hives to breathing difficulties, severe blood pressure drops and loss of consciousness.
Avoiding peanuts can be tricky because many prepared foods contain peanut products, while other foods come in contact with peanut proteins during processing, which can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Parents have to read labels carefully and alert other adults in their child’s life to the importance of peanut avoidance.
To help prevent children’s accidental exposure, many schools have banned peanut-containing foods; most children in the current study went to a peanut-free school.
Perhaps because of this, accidental peanut ingestion most often happened at home or at a friend’s or relative’s house.
It’s not clear why these incidents occurred, but Clarke and her colleagues speculate that at least some were caused by “mislabeling” on food products or caregivers’ misreading of labels.
Better education on peanut avoidance for parents, along with tougher standards for food manufacturing and labeling, might help prevent more accidental exposures, the researchers conclude.
In the U.S., a federal law went into effect this year requiring product labels to clearly state whether a food contains proteins from peanuts or any of seven other major food allergens.
SOURCE: Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, August 2006.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD