Children's Peanut Allergies Have Doubled

Roasted Peanuts, Nut-Based Oils Contributing to Problem

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 9, 2003 -- The number of children with peanut allergies has doubled over the past few years, a new study shows.

It's a wake-up call for parents who may want to quit giving nuts to very young children, because their immune systems are not fully developed, say researchers. Roasted peanuts and nut-based or soy-based products also may be contributing to the problem, they say.

Their report appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Of the 4855 households included in the nationwide survey, 3% reported that one or more people in the home had a peanut or tree nut allergy, or both. Those numbers were similar to a 1997 survey, reports researcher Scott H. Sicherer, MD, a pediatrician and allergist with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

While the number of adults did not change much, numbers of children with peanut allergies jumped significantly -- doubling from 0.4% in 1997 to 0.8% in 2002.

Boys were more prone to developing peanut allergies, but researchers do not understand why.

Walnuts caused the most problems, followed by cashews, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, and pine nuts.

Throat tightness, shortness of breath, and hives were the main symptoms. Nearly 80% had respiratory and other reactions; however, only three-quarters of children and less than half of adults had seen a doctor about the problem.

While a genetic predisposition is likely involved, there are several additional possibilities for increased rates of peanut allergies in children, writes Sicherer:

  • When roasted, peanuts produce more allergy-triggering compounds.
  • Children are eating peanuts when their immune systems are immature.
  • More skin ointments containing peanuts and the use of soy formulas are being used.

Because this allergy typically develops in childhood and is rarely outgrown, this trend means that a growing segment of the general population will have peanut allergies, writes Sicherer.

Better strategies for prevention and treatment of peanut and tree nut allergies are desperately needed, he concludes.

SOURCE: Sicherer, S. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, December 2003; vol 112: pp 1203-1207.