Peanut Allergy on the Rise

peanut-allergiesThe rate of childhood peanut allergies has more than tripled in the past 10 years according to findings released this week from Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. A nationwide telephone survey of 5,300 households in 2008 reported 1.4 percent of children thought to have peanut allergies. This was compared to 0.4 percent reported in 1997. Although the actual number of children reported to have the allergy is still small, the percentage increase of  2.1 percent in the past decade is concerning.

“These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) study leader Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, a professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said in a news release from the school. “The data underscore the need for more study of these dangerous allergies.”

The level of peanut allergies in adults has remained the same at 1.3 percent.

“Our research shows that more than 3 million Americans report peanut and/or tree nut allergies, representing a significant health burden,” Sicherer said. “The data also emphasize the importance of developing better prevention and treatment strategies.”

There are a number of theories about the reported rise of peanut allergies:

  • People are developing less immunity to allergens because they’re exposed to fewer germs; medications are often administered to quickly prevent and treat infections.
  • “Hygiene hypothesis” theory is that people today live in a sterilized environment of anti-bacterial soaps and other sanitizing products; therefore not exposing their children to bacteria that would otherwise strengthen their immune systems. When complex proteins such as peanuts are introduced, the body thinks it’s an enemy and can have an adverse affect to it.
  • Peanuts are being introduced before a child’s immune system can grow and develop.

Researchers cautioned that this survey was conducted only on homes with telephones; possibly over representing wealthier households. Another limitation with the survey was the self-reported method; people who have been wrongly diagnosed with food allergies that they don’t actually have could have possibly reported in.

Source: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, news release, May 12, 2010