Peanut and food allergies are on the rise. Most estimates are between 1 in 25 to 30 children in the United States have a diagnosis of a peanut allergy.
Q: My 3-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with a peanut allergy, and it feels like so many kids these days have food allergies. When I was a child, I only knew a couple people with food allergies. Is the rate actually increasing?
A: Peanut and food allergiesareon the rise. Most estimates are between1 in 25 to 30 children in the United States have a diagnosis of a peanut allergy.
There are several theories to explain this increase. Part of the rise in diagnosis comes from increased awareness from families and physicians, as well as more accessible testing, either throughskin-prick testingat an allergist's office, orblood testingthat can be ordered by any physician.
Another theory is called the "Hygiene Hypothesis," which basically states that as our society has shifted from living on farms into cities, we have less exposure to microorganisms. Our immune system no longer has to practice fighting off infections and instead turns its attention to harmless proteins/allergens.
Another thought is that, in the United States, peanuts are mostly dry-roasted and perhaps this process alters the protein and increases its allergenicity. Lastly, there is ongoing research that suggests earlier introduction may promote tolerance, whereas we used to think avoidance prevented allergy.
For now, those with food allergies can only treat their condition with strict avoidance and vigilance for hidden sources of exposure. If you suspect your child has an allergy or if he or she has had an allergic reaction, be sure to consult your primary care physician for diagnosis and a proper treatment plan.
-Dr. David Stukus is Co-Director of the Asthma Center Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University.