A recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that peanut allergies are becoming more common, particularly in one southeastern Minnesota community.
Researchers looked at the medical records of several hundred children in the southeastern Minnesota county of Olmsted County. They found that new diagnoses of peanut allergy had risen from two out of every 10,000 children in 1999 to nearly seven out of every 10,000 in 2007. Food allergies are thought to affect eight percent of the children in the US, with the largest percentage being allergies to cow's milk, wheat, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and some seafood.
Maria Rinaldi, lead author of the new report and an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Reuters that estimates of peanut allergy vary because of the way peanut allergies are defined for the purposes of research studies. Rinaldi and her colleagues decided to take a conservative approach with their study. They gathered data from the medical records of more than 500 Olmsted County children , used a strict definition of allergy, and only included children who had laboratory-confirmed peanut allergy.
The Huffington Post said in 2010 another study also suggested there was a tripling of peanut allergy cases over the last 10 years. That study, which was conducted by researchers at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, included 13,534 people in the study. Their rates of food allergy were compared with those in 1997 and 2002.
Dr. Scott Sicherer, a pediatrics professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told Fox News "The leading theory is about hygiene - with less infection thanks to city living, smaller families, vaccines, sanitation, antibiotics, etc., the immune system is less 'busy' with germs and may become more prone to attack harmless food proteins."
Because peanut reactions can be severe, and even lead to death, measures to protect allergy sufferers from accidental exposure are becoming more and more common. There are now peanut bans on some airplanes, peanut-free sections of baseball stadiums and "school safe" packaged snacks which are manufactured in nut-free environments.
Doctors emphasize the importance of parents being aware of the symptoms of food allergies. According to the Mayo Clinic, those symptoms can include:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, light headedness or fainting
More severe symptoms include:
- Constriction and tightening of airways
- A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, light headedness or loss of consciousness
If anyone experiences these symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.