Peanut Allergy May Be Behind Many Children’s Asthma Attacks

Peanut allergy is a real issue especially in asthma.
Peanuts may be responsible asthma attacks without knowing it. Photo by thanunkorn, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

♦ Many children with asthma also have a peanut sensitivity, but parents aren’t often aware of this.

A new study into allergy suggests that children suffering from asthma could also have peanut allergy or at least sensitivity to it, but are simply not aware of this because the symptoms are so similar. Parents should have their kids tested for peanut allergy too if they are also asthmatic. If the family history includes peanut allergy, have an allergy to eggs or have eczema, than children are usually most at risk. There is also an association between peanut allergies and childhood asthma and it was this feature that prompted the study. Allergies of this type develop early in life and rarely disappear.

Peanut allergy affects nearly 3% of children in the Western world and this is being detected too in Africa and Asia. Anybody who has this allergy can sometimes result in a severe and potentially fatal reaction on exposure, called anaphylactic shock. The seriousness of this response means it is vital that children with this sensitivity and their families are constantly alert to foods being consumed.

The study in its early phase, was presented at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) 2015 International Conference at Denver in the US. The study’s lead author Robert Cohn from Mercy Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, USA stated;

Many of the respiratory symptoms of peanut allergy can mirror those of an asthma attack, and vice versa. Examples of those symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.”

The researchers examined 1,517 children from the paediatric pulmonary clinic at Mercy Children’s Hospital. The researchers looked for documented evidence of peanut allergies and whether blood tests had established if children have the antibodies that indicated a potential reaction to peanuts, based on the immunoglobulin, IgE.

Nearly half these children had been tested in the past for the peanut allergy. They found roughly 11% of the kids knew they had peanut allergy. When many of the children (44%) came back for the immunoglobulin based blood test for peanut allergy, approximately 22% were found positive to peanut sensitivity. It’s worth noting that sensitivity to a food is not as severe from a health point of view as an allergy.

What intrigued the scientists was that more than half of these children and their families, (53%) did not suspect there was any sensitivity to peanuts. The researchers also noted that even when the prevalence of testing positively varied across age groups, the prevalence of whether the peanut allergy was known was “strikingly similar” across all age groups.

Dr. Cohn added:-

This study demonstrates children with asthma might benefit from a test for peanut sensitivity, especially when control of wheezing and coughing is difficult to achieve. If a physician is having this problem, or if a parent notices it in his or her asthmatic child, they should consider testing, even if they believe their child is not sensitive to peanuts.”

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of research and policy at Asthma UK, reasoned with greater caution:-

These findings are difficult to interpret because allergy tests to food are notoriously unreliable and require careful interpretation to confirm a diagnosis of peanut allergy. Although asthma affects 1 in 11 people in the UK, including 1.1 million children, it is a complex condition and years of research underfunding means it remains a relative mystery. Many people have positive allergy tests but can eat peanuts safely, and so it is unsurprising that many people tested for this research did not know they would have a positive test result.”

“Children with asthma and food allergy together are at increased risk of a severe asthma attack and so should be monitored carefully to keep their asthma under control. So, if your child does have an asthma diagnosis it’s important that they reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening attack by taking their medication as prescribed. This often includes taking a preventer inhaler to help build up resistance, as well as ensuring they carry a reliever inhaler at all times. If you notice your child’s asthma symptoms are changing, book an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse to discuss possible changes to their medication.”

The evidence presented comes on the back of a recent study that claimed that if babies in particular ate peanut based products frequently and regularly enough before 11 months old, even those at high risk of a peanut allergy may not develop it. There may be other allergies that are responsible too for these asthma symptoms.

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