Here's What Might Actually Prevent Peanut Allergies Before They Happen

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Peanut allergies are amongst the most common of food allergies, and for years, experts have gone back and forth over the best methods to prevent children from developing a peanut allergy in the first place.

While previous studies have gone so far as to suggest that women with peanut allergies shouldn't feed peanuts to their children, a new set of guidelines says that introducing peanut-based foods to children during infancy could actually be the key to allergy prevention.

On Thursday, a panel of experts published new guidelines on when to introduce infants to foods containing peanuts as a way to reduce the risk of children developing allergic reactions in the future. The recommendations, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, are based on findings from the Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP) study, which suggested that an early introduction to peanuts could increase tolerance and cut down on allergy risks.

So, what are the guidelines? The recommendations fall into three categories, based on how likely it is that a child will develop allergies.

The first involves children who are considered to be at high risk for a peanut allergy — those who have severe eczema, an egg allergy, or even both. Parents are advised to introduce these children to peanut-containing foods at around 4 to 6 months of age, or to get them tested for peanut allergies via an official blood test or skin prick.

The second category includes children who are at a lower risk for a peanut allergy — those with mild to moderate eczema — who should be introduced to peanut foods at 6 months old.

The third category involves those with little to no risk — children with no eczema or food allergies and no family history of such. These children, according to the guidelines, can be fed peanuts or peanut-containing foods at any age, based on the family's preferences.

Severe peanut allergies can cause anaphylactic shock, which can involve nausea, vomiting, and even fatal cardiac arrest.

As of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that food allergies in children had increased in children between 1997 and 2011. So while it may be anxiety-inducing for parents to feed their children peanuts, the old adage may apply: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

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