Introduce peanuts early to children to reduce allergy risk, experts suggest

January 9, 2017 Providence Health Team

New guidance from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases advises parents and caregivers to begin feeding infants peanut-containing foods as early as 4 months of age. Doing so, the institute says, can reduce the likelihood that high-risk infants will develop peanut allergy.

Peanut allergy is a potentially life-threatening condition with no treatment and no cure. People who have the allergy must be vigilant not to eat any foods containing peanuts, lest they trigger an allergic reaction.

Experts began considering new guidelines following a trial involving more than 600 infants. The Learning Early About Peanut Allergy study reported clinical results in early 2015. According to the national institute, “researchers found regular consumption of peanut-containing foods beginning early in life reduced the risk of developing peanut allergy by 81 percent.”

“The LEAP study clearly showed that introduction of peanuts early in life significantly lowered the risk of developing peanut allergy by age 5,” said Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of the national institute’s Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation.

When to start feeding peanuts to a baby

The new guidelines address infants in three categories:

  • Infants with a high risk of developing peanut allergies because they have severe eczema, egg allergy or both should have peanut-containing foods introduced as early as 4 to 6 months. However, parents and caregivers should check first with the baby’s health care provider, who may request additional tests before introducing peanuts into the baby’s diet.
  • Infants with mild to moderate eczema should have peanut-containing foods in their diet beginning around 6 months.
  • Infants with no eczema or any food allergy should have peanuts “freely introduced” into their diets.

What is peanut allergy

Your child may have a peanut allergy if he develops these symptoms after coming into contact with them:

  • Swollen, reddish bumps or welts
  • Red, itchy skin
  • Itching in the mouth
  • Swelling of the lips or tongue
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or other stomach troubles
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

A peanut allergy can pose serious health problems. Parents and caregivers of children with this allergy should take active steps to avoid giving peanut-based foods to their children. This means carefully checking labels in the grocery store, asking questions when dining out and keeping medicine, such as an epinephrine auto-injector, on hand.

Talk to your infant’s health care provider about peanut allergies and other issues involving your baby’s diet. You can find a Providence provider here.

To learn more

You can learn more about peanut allergies in the Providence Health Library. See, for example, “In a Nutshell: Understanding Peanut Allergies.”

We have written previously about peanut allergies:

Antibiotics for infants may lead to food allergies later »
Children’s food allergies: Could food be the cure? »

You can read a clear explanation of the new guidelines in the news release from the National Institutes of Health: “NIH-sponsored expert panel issues clinical guidelines to prevent peanut allergy.” The text of the guidelines themselves can be found here.

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