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Prevent Allergy: Feed Your Little Peanut…Peanuts

DCMC Varshney Pooja MDMany parents wonder and often worry about the right age to safely begin feeding their child peanut products, to prevent an allergic reaction.

According to two new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, infants who eat peanut products early in life are less likely to develop the allergy later. One study found this is true, even when kids stopped eating peanut foods for a year. A second study showed children introduced to peanut products at three months of age while breastfeeding also experienced a reduction in peanut allergy.

Dr. Pooja Varshney, pediatric allergy, asthma and immunology specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, says this is important as allergies to peanuts and other foods are on the rise. The new findings support breakthrough research first announced last year in a study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy, or LEAP.

“Last year’s LEAP study was a game changer,” Varshney said. “As we continue to learn more about peanut allergy, the new research offers additional hope to those at risk.”

In the first of the two new studies, infants at high risk for peanut allergy were told to either eat peanut protein regularly or completely avoid it until age five. By age five, those children who had been regularly consuming peanut protein were told to avoid peanuts for one year. Even so, when the children were retested at age six, there was no increase in peanut allergies.

“It shows us the protection gained by early exposure is long-lasting and adds to the evidence supporting the early introduction of peanut products.”

Finding ways to prevent peanut allergy is critical. While many allergies to foods like milk, egg and soy typically resolve in childhood, Varshney points out that peanut allergies tend to be among the more serious and are generally lifelong.

So when is a good time for parents to offer a first taste?

“The sooner, the better,” she says. “A good time to talk about food introduction with your child’s pediatrician is at the four-month well-visit.”

Thanks to the new studies, infant feeding guidelines have been revised to reflect the changes and help guide physicians and parents. Varshney recommends the following:

  • Each child is unique. Always talk with your child’s pediatrician first before deciding to start peanut products.
  • Infants with egg allergy or severe eczema need additional evaluation, including testing and referral to an allergist.
  • If your baby is not at risk, you can introduce peanut products between four and six months.
  • Finally, never feed your baby whole peanuts or nuts, as they are choking hazards. Discuss appropriate peanut products with your child’s doctor.

Dell Children’s offers pediatric services in Allergy, Asthma and Immunology to children in Central Texas.