Doctors caution that kids shouldn't try peanuts until
they're at least 2 years old, yet many parents disregard those
warnings, serving common kid fare like peanut butter to their
youngsters. That's bad news, as researchers are finding that
children are having allergic reactions to peanuts much earlier than
they were just a decade ago.
Comparing the medical information of peanut-allergic children at
a Duke University clinic between July 2000 and April 2006 with
peanut-allergic kids between 1995 and 1997, the researchers found
- From 2000-2006, the children were first exposed to peanuts,
on average, at 14 months and then had reactions to them at around
- From 1995-1997, the kids weren't exposed to peanuts until
about 22 months and didn't have allergic reactions until
around 24 months (or 2 years).
So, why the allergic reactions at such a young age these days?
The researchers say it seems to be because parents today are often
introducing foods containing peanuts much earlier than doctors
The general peanut protocol is to:
- Wait to give kids peanut butter or other peanut products
until after they're 2 years old.
- Wait until 3 years old if there's a family history of
- Skip peanut butter during pregnancy and while nursing,
especially if food allergies run in the family
How Food Allergies Work
With food allergies, the immune system mistakenly believes that
something a person ate is harmful. To try to protect the body, the
immune system produces certain types of antibodies (called
immunoglobulin E, or IgE) that then cause allergy cells in the body
(called mast cells) to release chemicals into the bloodstream.
Histamine, one of those chemicals, then starts affecting the
person's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal
tract and causes the symptoms of the allergic reaction.
Although different people may react to allergens in different
ways, signs of a mild allergic reaction can include:
- a stuffy, runny nose
- mild skin redness
- red bumps (hives) anywhere on the body
- mild swelling
- itchy, watery eyes
But the symptoms can quickly become more serious. Watch for
signs of anaphylaxis (a sudden, potentially severe allergic
reaction involving various systems in the body), such as:
- difficulty swallowing or speaking
- wheezing or trouble breathing
- swelling of the face or mouth
- tightness of the throat
- dizziness or fainting
- abdominal pain
Although most allergic reactions aren't serious, severe
reactions can be life-threatening and require immediate medical
What This Means to You
About 1.5 million people in the United States are allergic to
peanuts (which actually aren't a true nut after all, but a
legume, in the same family as peas and lentils). Half of those
allergic to peanuts are also allergic to tree nuts (like almonds,
walnuts, pecans, cashews, and often sunflower and sesame
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI)
estimates that up to 2 million, or 8%, of U.S. children have food
allergies, and that six foods account for 90% of those:
- tree nuts
In fact, most of the kids in this latest peanut allergy study
also were allergic or sensitive to one or more of those foods (as
well as shellfish). But, unlike allergies to foods like milk and
eggs, children generally don't outgrow allergies to peanuts or
nuts - they just have to learn to avoid foods that could make them
Although peanut butter packs a nutritious, easy punch for snacks
and lunch - and is a favorite among kids of all ages - it's
best to wait to give young kids peanuts and peanut butter until at
least age 2, or later if food allergies run in your family. And if
you're pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about
whether you should steer clear of peanuts and peanut butter,
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2007
Source: "Clinical Characteristics of Peanut-Allergic
Children: Recent Changes,"
, December 2007.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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