Food allergies are commonplace, but if you're a parent, you know they can be a source of anxiety. What if your child develops an allergy you don't know about and gets exposed to that food? How do you treat the reaction and avoid future exposure?
Peanuts are one of the most common food allergy culprits, and the problem has become even more prevalent in recent years. Studies show that the rate of peanut allergy in children tripled between 1997 and 2008.
If your child is allergic to peanuts, it's important that you recognize the symptoms of a reaction and know how to treat it. Here are some signs to look for and precautions you can take to limit your child's exposure.
Peanut Allergy Symptoms
The symptoms of an allergic reaction typically appear within a few minutes to a couple of hours after exposure to the allergen. Symptoms include:
- Swelling of the face, tongue, or lips
- Tingling or itchiness in the mouth
- Rash or flushed skin
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Coughing or wheezing
- Difficulty breathing
Mild symptoms can become more severe if not treated immediately. The most serious consequence of allergic reaction to peanuts is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can cause impaired breathing, severe lowering of blood pressure, shock, or suffocation due to swelling of the throat.
Treating a Reaction
Given how severe the symptoms can become, it's important to treat an allergic reaction to peanuts as quickly as possible. The most common treatment strategy is to carry an epinephrine autoinjector such as an EpiPen. The device releases a single dose of medication when pressed into the person's thigh.
If your child has a peanut allergy, he or she should carry an autoinjector at all times. Ask your doctor to show you and your child how to use the device, make sure any caregivers or family members know when and how to use it, and be sure to replace it before the expiration date. For school-aged children, it may also be helpful to leave an extra one with the school nurse just in case.
While there's no way to cure peanut allergies, scientists are studying oral immunotherapy, or desensitization, as a treatment. The procedure involves giving peanut allergy sufferers increasing doses of foods containing peanuts over time to get their bodies accustomed to them. One study found that 62 percent of participants became desensitized after active oral immunotherapy using peanut flour.
Whether or not that treatment becomes widely available, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If your child is allergic to peanuts, the first course of action is to avoid the allergenic food as much as possible.
Knowing what products contain peanuts should be relatively easy. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that all food products with labeling regulated by the Food and Drug Administration be clearly labeled so that consumers with food allergies can more easily avoid allergens.
However, some foods that don't actually contain peanuts can be contaminated during the manufacturing or food preparation process. These foods typically carry a warning label stating that they "may contain peanuts" or were "made in a factory that also processes peanuts." Not all manufacturers use this label, so it's important to practice caution.
Teach your child how to read labels and identify offending foods. In case of accidental exposure or ingestion, teach them how to recognize the early symptoms and alert an adult so they can get appropriate treatment.
Can You Outgrow a Peanut Allergy?
Peanut allergies are typically lifelong, but some people do outgrow them. A study from the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that 15.6 percent of children allergic to peanuts had outgrown the condition. Researchers also found that, the earlier the child's first reaction to an allergen, the more likely he or she was to outgrow the allergy.
There's nothing wrong with holding out hope that your child will outgrow a peanut allergy, but it's important to stay prepared given the relatively low likelihood. If you know what signs to watch out for, how to limit exposure, and how to treat a reaction, you and your child should have no problem keeping things under control.