FRIDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- When Bela Mehta's toddler
son was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, she carefully
explained to her parents and in-laws that ingesting even the
tiniest amount of peanut could cause a life-threatening
Yet when the grandparents came over to babysit, Mehta would come
home to find that they'd brought over desserts that contained
peanuts, or that they were continuing to make dishes containing
peanuts using her blender.
"I said, 'If it was labeled poison, or cyanide, would you still bring it here?" said Mehta, a mother of two who lives in Chicago. "That's how dangerous it is to him."
Despite having a close-knit, involved and loving family, Mehta
has struggled to make sure relatives understand just how seriously
they need to take her son's food allergy. Her experiences are far
from uncommon, according to a new study.
British researchers found that families with children who have
nut allergies often feel like others suspect they're just being
neurotic, while some children described being taunted or feeling
excluded during social events. In the study, published online Aug.
16 in the journal
Chronic Illness, researchers interviewed 26 families dealing with nut allergies, including parents, children and teens.
"What they described is really a very difficult set of experiences," said senior study author Mary Dixon-Woods, a professor of medical sociology at University of Leicester. "In virtually all cases, the child has had a very extreme reaction to nuts. Parents described it as being very frightening. It often involved a dash to the emergency room to get treatment. They didn't know what was going wrong, and the child often had symptoms like swelling and difficulty breathing."
Nearly 6 million U.S. children -- or about one in 12 kids -- are
allergic to at least one food, with peanuts, milk and shellfish
topping the list of most common allergens, according to research
Pediatrics in July.
Among kids with food allergies, 25 percent were allergic to
peanuts and 13 percent were allergic to tree nuts.
Peanuts can cause a severe, potentially life-threatening
reaction known as anaphylaxis -- wheezing and trouble breathing,
vomiting, swelling, persistent coughing that would indicate airway
swelling, and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
Though researchers are studying immunotherapy -- including
desensitizing children to an allergen by gradually giving them
increasing amounts of it -- that's mainly limited to clinical
trials and not all children are candidates.
For now, the primary treatment for peanut allergies is
avoidance. Parents are told to have EpiPens, which contain
epinephrine (adrenalin), on hand at all times.
To protect their kids, many parents read labels and are vigilant
about keeping peanuts out of their home. But creating a "safe
environment" is more difficult outside of the home -- in schools,
restaurants, on airplanes, or when their children are in the care
Some parents described incidents in which family and friends had
deliberately given their child nuts to test if the allergy was
There should be no question about that, said Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an
associate professor of pediatrics at Feinberg School of Medicine at
Northwestern University in Chicago who studies food allergies.
"Peanut allergies are very life-threatening," Ruchi said. "Kids with a peanut allergy can have shortness of breath. Their throat closes. Their blood pressure drops and if not treated immediately, it can lead to death."
Some families cope by never going to restaurants, cooking all
food from scratch and avoiding parties and other events where nuts
could be served, according to the research. Families also reported
feeling stigmatized and socially excluded, while children reported
teasing. Other kids would say, 'I've got nuts and I'm gonna come
touch you'," according to the study.
But not all parents said they faced such social difficulties.
Julie Gillie, whose 16-year-old son has a peanut allergy, has often
asked people to not serve peanuts or to put away peanuts at social
"I don't think I've had an experience with people not understanding. If they've got peanuts out, I'll say, 'I'm not being rude, but my son is allergic to peanuts, and I've never had a problem with it," said Gillie, who lives outside London. "Obviously, people don't want anyone to do poorly."
After her son was diagnosed, even Mehta's husband, a
cardiologist, struggled to accept that her son really couldn't eat
so many of the foods that were a staple of their Indian diet, she
Mehta's son was eventually also diagnosed with allergies to tree
nuts, all grains --including wheat, barley and millet -- sesame,
several fruits, lentils, beans and soy. For lifelong vegetarians,
the food restrictions have been difficult, Mehta said.
Eventually, she brought her husband, parents and in-laws to an
allergist's appointment and let the physician explain just how
serious the food allergies were.
"I know the grandparents love our kids, there is no question about it," Mehta said. "I've found that the more involved they are in the allergy discussion, the more on the same wavelength we are."
Initiative has more on food allergies.
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