According to the Food Allergy Research & Education organization (FARE), it is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies among children have increased roughly 50 percent and researchers are still attempting to understand why they are on the rise.
The ubiquity of food allergies is on the rise, particularly when it comes to peanuts. One study by Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City discovered that peanut allergies among children in the United States have gone up 1.4 percent, a terrifying number for parents everywhere, reports the New York Times. In addition, children that suffer from peanut allergies are also likely to be allergic to at least one other nut, such as almonds, pecans or walnuts.
On a worldwide scale, peanut allergies are also on the uptake and about one in 50 children have been diagnosed with peanut allergies, but a majority of these cases originate from high-income, developed nations, according to the Associated Press.
Peanut allergies transpire from a type one hypersensitivity reaction – otherwise known as anaphylaxis – to an array of dietary elements from the nut that leads the immune system to overreact. This causes numerous symptoms to form, such as a rapid heart rate, itchiness, nausea and swelling of the tongue and throat. Researchers say that a significant number of children make a trip to the emergency room – an estimated 200,000 hospital visits occur each year.
The only way a reaction is stopped is through an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline).
Scientists have yet to find a cure. The Stanford Daily reported of a study that found peanut allergic individuals who have experienced a desensitization treatment have changed DNA methylation levels.
A different study, meanwhile, was able to permit children to eat five peanuts at a time. Health professionals at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts initiated a study by allowing 99 children between the ages of seven and 16 with severe peanut allergies a small two-milligram dosage of a special peanut flour that was blended into their food. The doses continued to increase over time and after six months more than 80 percent of the kids could eat a small amount of peanuts.
“This made a dramatic difference to their lives,” said Dr. Andrew Clark of the University of Cambridge in Britain and study author. “Before the study, they could not even tolerate tiny bits of peanuts and their parents had to read food labels continuously.”
One participant, 12-year-old Lena Barden, who suffered from breathing problems and serious swelling due to peanuts, can now indulge into treats: “I’d never tried a doughnut before I was 11 because they (could) contain traces of nuts,” explained Barden, who had then eaten one and found “it was amazing.”
As the Globe and Mail notes, companies voluntarily inform customers whether or not their packaged foods consist of traces of peanuts. In several cities across the U.S., nut-free bakeries have been established and sell products that are safe for children with peanut allergies.
In the end, parents still have to closely monitor what children put in their bodies both at home and outside.