January 15, 2021 by John Fernandez
Introduce Peanut Foods to Kids Early to Prevent Allergy, New U.S. Guidelines Urge
New U.S. health guidelines urge parents to give their children foods containing peanuts early and regularly, starting at infancy, to help prevent what could be a life-threatening peanut allergy.
The new guidelines, issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, suggest that parents introduce peanut-containing foods into the diets of their infants as early as 4 to 6 months of age to reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy. This strongest recommendation applies to infants “deemed at high risk of developing peanut allergy because they already have severe eczema, egg allergy or both.”
The new recommendations also suggest that infants with mild or moderate eczema have peanut-containing foods introduced into their diets at about 6 months of age to reduce the risk of peanut allergy. And, at minimum, the guidelines urge parents to have “peanut-containing foods freely introduced” into the diets of infants without eczema or any food allergy.
Babies should be given puréed food or finger food containing peanut powder or extract. The report emphasizes that infants and small children should never be given whole peanuts due to the risk of choking. Other solid foods should be introduced into your infant’s diet before trying peanut-containing foods.
At a time when food allergies starting in childhood is on the rise, the goal of the NIAID guidelines is to help train the immune systems of babies so they don’t overreact and cause dangerous allergic reactions. Currently, food allergies affect an estimated 5 percent of the children in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are seeing a greater awareness of food allergies as incidents increase,” said Javier Hiriart, M.D., a pediatrician and physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “Parents of infants should introduce new foods in stages to keep track of any reactions and report any potential allergies to their pediatrician.”
Check With Your Pediatrician First
Parents and caregivers should check with their infant’s pediatrician before feeding the infant peanut-containing foods. The family doctor or pediatrician may choose to conduct an allergy blood test or send the infant to a specialist for other tests, such as a skin-prick test or an oral food challenge, the NIAID states. The results of these tests will help decide if and how peanut foods should be safely introduced into the infant’s diet.
“Once you know that your child has had some type of reaction, your doctor can confirm with additional testing,” Dr. Hiriart said.
The NIAID report says that peanut allergy is a growing health problem for which no treatment or cure exists. Adults living with peanut allergy, and their caregivers, must be vigilant about the foods they eat and the environments they enter to avoid allergic reactions, which can be severe and even life-threatening. The likelihood of developing allergies can be hereditary, although this is not a certainty. “If parents have allergic tendencies, a child may be more prone,” Dr. Hiriart said.
“Living with peanut allergy requires constant vigilance. Preventing the development of peanut allergy will improve and save lives and lower health care costs,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “We expect that widespread implementation of these guidelines by healthcare providers will prevent the development of peanut allergy in many susceptible children and ultimately reduce the prevalence of peanut allergy in the United States.”
The CDC says that eight foods or food groups account for 90 percent of serious allergic reactions in the U.S. They are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts.
Here’s an overview of the NIAID recommendations:
Guideline 1: If your infant has severe eczema, egg allergy, or both (conditions that increase the risk of peanut allergy), he or she should have peanut-containing foods introduced into the diet as early as 4 to 6 months of age. This will reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy.
Guideline 2: If your infant has mild to moderate eczema, he or she may have peanut-containing foods introduced into the diet around 6 months of age to reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy. However, this should be done with your family’s dietary preferences in mind.
Guideline 3: If your infant has no eczema or any food allergy, you can freely introduce peanut-containing foods into his or her diet. This can be done at home in an age-appropriate manner together with other solid foods, keeping in mind your family’s dietary routines.