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Peanut Allergy May Be Preventable

New Drug Protects From Reactions; New Finding May Keep Kids From Getting Nut Allergies

True Prevention of Peanut Allergy

In the future, there may be far fewer people with Flegel's problem. Another NEJM study looks at how kids become allergic to peanuts in the first place. The findings aren't just pie in the sky -- they point to things parents can do right now.

Metzger says the study, by Gideon Lack, MD, of the Imperial College in London, and colleagues, is very attractive.

"It makes an attempt to get at the root cause of this particular kind off allergy," he says.

Scientists have had several ideas about when peanut allergies start. Some blame mothers for eating peanuts while pregnant or while nursing. Others say it happens when kids eat peanuts or peanut butter while they're still babies. Now it looks as though none of this is true.

Lack's team studied nearly 14,000 preschool children. Forty-nine of them had peanut allergies. What made them different? It wasn't peanuts eaten by pregnant or nursing mothers. It wasn't even early peanut eating. Instead, kids were more likely to have peanut allergy if they had eczema or other oozing, crusting rashes. It was also linked to taking soy milk or soy formula. And it was highly linked to the use of skin creams containing oil from peanuts or other nuts.

"From our data it appears that sensitization to peanuts occurs after birth and may be related to environmental exposures," Lack tells WebMD. "One such exposure is topical exposure to lotions containing peanut protein. Another is [skin] exposure to soy milk."

What does all this mean? Lack warns against jumping to conclusions. He says the rash is the main clue -- and that it's not drinking soy milk, but dribbling soy milk on the skin that seems to be the culprit. Why? First, people sensitive to soybeans often cross-react to peanuts or tree nuts. Second, skin rashes attract cells of the immune system. Peanut oils or soy milk seeping through broken skin may sensitize these cells and start the allergic process.

Here's Lack's advice to parents:

  • Don't stop using lotions for skin rash until you see a doctor.
  • Don't stop giving children soy milk or soy formula until you see a doctor.
  • Be very careful about using any skin oils or massage lotions on babies or young children. Check the label -- look out for lotions that contain peanut or nut oils.
  • If you're nuzzling an infant or changing its diapers, don't wear cosmetics containing peanut or nut oils.
  • If your child has a rash, see a doctor. Don't use over-the-counter skin preparations without medical advice.

"I think that people need to be more aware of what is being applied to the skin," Lack says. "This advice applies particularly to allergic families. So if there is a family history of asthma, hay fever, eczema, or food allergy, any new child has a high risk."

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