Why do so many Kids seem to Have Peanut Allergies?
Years ago, peanut allergies were uncommon, but nowadays it seems like so many children are sensitive to those foods, prompting schools and summer camps to ban things like peanut butter.
Dr. Michael S. Mattikow, Allergist and Associate Clinical Professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said no one really knows why this happening.
"Maybe it's more public awareness, maybe it's the fact that it's being diagnosed more that people didn't know what they were seeing before, who knows. There's all sorts of theories on this and there's all sorts of controversy whether this is as big a problem as some people think it is," said Dr. Mattikow.
In some cases, peanut allergies can be life-threatening.
"There's the story of someone who ate a peanut and then kissed someone and that person was allergic and they died," Mattikow said. He added, "You have an occasional patient who is exquisitely sensitive, but most of the times, it's not that bad."
In those rare cases, patients usually carry the self-injectable, Epinephrine (adrenaline) medication, according to Mattikow.
Mattikow pointed out that peanuts are not tree nuts. "Peanuts are legumes. They're beans," he said.
There are some extreme exceptions in people with food allergies, where items must be separated in containers and separate utensils must be used, according to Mattikow. He said milk, eggs, and wheat are other common food allergies in children
"Not all reactions are caused by allergies. You can have toxic reactions to foods, you can have spoiled food, something in food. Certain fish and seafood can have things like that. Bottom fish can have these sort of things and they're different. There's also some people who have reactions if they eat and then exercise [Exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA)]," Mattikow said, noting it's not a one-to-one basis.
Mattikow explained that at extreme young age and extreme old age developing a sudden allergy to something you normally eat is very rare, but it's more common in early adults as a Bell-shaped Curve.
"A Bell-shaped Curve is a curve that starts low, goes up to a point, and then goes down on the other side, so that you'll find that most of the people who develop allergies, develop them in late childhood, early adulthood, and then it's starts getting less and less," he said.
Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), is when eating certain foods, such as a peach or a pear, can trigger an allergic reaction in the mouth, in someone with a birch tree allergy, according to Mattikow.
"People who are allergic to ragweed may have trouble with strawberries. Their throat will itch and their ears will itch," he added.
As far as being pro-active to avoid developing an allergy, Mattikow said their have been studies suggesting early exposure to certain things may help.
"People who were born and had cats in the house, supposedly are less likely to get sensitive to cats. There was a study from Israel, where they eat more peanuts in pregnancy and supposedly the kids had less chance of getting allergies to peanuts," said Mattikow. However, he added there are a lot of "clues" going on that researchers don't have the complete answers to yet.