CHICAGO Allergies to peanuts and other foods are showing up in children at younger ages for reasons that are not clear, researchers said on Monday, and some urged parents to postpone exposing susceptible children to peanuts.
In a study of 140 children with peanut allergies, the median age of the first allergic reaction was 14 months among those born between 2000 and 2005, compared to 22 to 24 months among allergic children born between 1988 and 1999.
"There's a valid reason to delay introduction to products containing peanuts," said Dr. Todd Green of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
"When kids are older, it can be easier to manage bad reactions. They can tell you right away if their mouths feel funny. For that reason alone, it's worth delaying exposing your child to a peanut product, especially if a child is at high risk," he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which published the study in its journal Pediatrics, recommends that children with a family history of allergies avoid peanuts until age 3. Studies have indicated that up to 1 percent of children have a food allergy.
"More research needs to be done to determine why peanut allergy in children is increasing and, most importantly, how to stop this increase," Anne Munoz-Furlong, director of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in Fairfax, Virginia, said in a statement. The group's data was used in the study.
Among an estimated 12 million Americans with food allergies, nearly 2 million are allergic to peanuts, although up to 20 percent outgrow it, researchers said. Many patients in the study were also found to be allergic to other foods, commonly eggs, soy, wheat, tree nuts, and shellfish.
As many as one-third of people with peanut allergies have severe reactions such as trouble breathing, a drop in blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems.
About 200 U.S. deaths occur each year due to food-related allergic reactions, usually involving peanuts or tree nuts, said another of the study's authors, Dr. Wesley Burks of Duke University.
Usually, an allergic reaction will occur within seconds of ingestion in the form of an itchy rash, or swelling of the skin, followed by respiratory symptoms and vomiting.
"The take-home message here is that families in that at-risk group have an antihistamine available and then not stay home -- get medical assistance," Burks said.
Allergy shots generally do not work for food allergies, Green said, though Duke researchers are getting good results raising tolerance by giving sufferers small amounts.