Food allergy continues to be a common problem among children, occurring in 1 out of 13 American children. Here are some tips for parents:
Make sure the diagnosis is correct
The most reliable method to determine if someone is allergic to peanuts is a ‘peanut challenge,’ which is done in a facility equipped to handle allergic emergencies. This procedure is the preferred method because allergy skin or blood testing for a peanut allergy has a very high rate of false positive results. New methods for diagnosing clinical allergies are being investigated and hopefully will lead to improved diagnostic accuracy without having to do the ‘peanut challenge’
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 was enacted to assist consumers in identifying food ingredients. This has greatly helped my patients. Remind your child to carefully look at the ingredients on food labels and, if unsure, advise him or her to not consume the food. Accidental reactions from cross-contamination with other foods do occur from time to time. Be prepared to identify early signs of an allergic reaction to allow more prompt treatment of these allergic reactions.
Have an Action Plan and know how to use your medications
With the increased cost of EpiPens, many generic versions are now being introduced into the market. When you get your epinephrine auto-injector, take your device to your physician to learn how to use it and train family members about its use as well. We do this in my office at least once per year.
Wipe surfaces down where peanut protein may have been located
This is a simple measure that reduces levels of peanut protein. Studies have shown that hand washing with liquid soap, bar soap or using commercial wipes on tables where peanut products have been present, reduces peanut protein. The use of ‘peanut-free’ tables in schools is not a guarantee that peanut protein has not touched the surface of the table. Remember, peanut may be used in arts and crafts, and not found only in cafeterias of schools.
Have regular follow up with your physician
As of now, peanut allergy is felt to be life-long in about 80% of the population, but this problem will hopefully lessen with earlier introduction of peanut products in children.
Over the next few years, the FDA will look at methods to reduce the chance of allergic reactions in peanut-allergic patients. Possible methods include: using peanut patches, which a patient would wear on his/her skin; or undergoing peanut desensitization, a method that introduces small, but increasing amounts of peanut to the patient to lessen sensitivity to a substance.
If you or your child has a peanut allergy, it’s recommended that you consult with a physician experienced in food allergies to help make a diagnosis, as well as to recommend an appropriate course of therapy.
Paul J. Berlin MD