Until recently, doctors advised parents to not feed their babies peanuts in the hopes of avoiding a peanut allergy, which can potentially be deadly. Unfortunately, this advice was misguided, and it backfired. Instead of preventing an allergy to peanuts, more children were diagnosed. Because of this increase, nary an elementary school lunchroom can be found with the once childhood staple, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In fact, homemade snacks and treats for the classroom, once a mainstay, aren't typically allowed anymore either, out of fears of cross-contamination and common allergen-causing ingredients. The ubiquitous pack of peanuts the airlines used to give on short flights is also largely a thing of the past. Here's a look at where the peanut allergy conundrum is now.
Early in 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), in conjunction with other groups, changed the guidelines, saying instead babies should be given peanut-containing products as soon as they begin solid foods, typically at six months of age. This allows their immune systems to develop the "skills" necessary to handle peanuts.
The Role Of Economics
Scientists have also uncovered another component while researching the rise in peanut allergies. Oddly, one's socioeconomic status also seems to play a role. Children who come from wealthier families seem to be at higher risk than children from low income families. Scientists surmise this is because wealthier children tend to be seen by the doctor more. These upper-class parents would have been told by their child's pediatrician to withhold peanuts whereas lower income parents may not have received this message. Additionally, peanut butter is a budget-friendly food, which could mean poorer children were likely exposed to peanuts more frequently.
Germs Are Good
Another possibility is the use of antimicrobials in hand sanitizers and other products in more recent years. Scientists suspect sterilizing a child's immune system from dirt and germs is leaving children's immune systems suppressed and weak.
When To See An Allergist
While the advice to begin feeding peanut butter or other products containing peanuts early applies to most parents, if a child has eczema or has shown an egg allergy, an allergy doctor should be consulted. Additionally, if either parent has a peanut allergy, peanut butter should be introduced with medical supervision. An allergy doctor can perform tests to see what, if any, substances a child is allergic to. If they are found to have a peanut sensitivity, they will be gradually introduced to peanuts in a clinical setting, a procedure that has shown phenomenal success.