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Trick or Treat: How to Manage Peanut Allergies this Halloween

By David J. Resnick, MD FAAAAI | Allergy/Immunology

For many kids, going out to trick-or-treat is the most exciting part of Halloween. But for an increasing number of parents, having children with peanut allergies can make the prospect of encountering even the occasional Snickers bar or Reese’s Cup quite stressful. Whether you already know that your child is allergic, or suspect that they may be, CareMount has gathered some useful information to help you prevent and manage a potential allergen exposure.

What is an allergy?

An allergic reaction is caused by a dysfunction in the immune system. The body considers a naturally occurring protein in the food an invader that must be fought. According to Dr. David Resnick, Director of Allergy and Immunology at CareMount, food allergies have become more common over the past 15 years, currently affecting 6-8% of children and 3% of adults.  “Approximately 1.5% of the U.S. population has a peanut allergy,” he writes, “[with] 20% of children outgrowing [them] by the time they reach adulthood.”

Dr. Resnick notes that, “when people are allergic to a food, they develop hives or welts within a few minutes after [ingestion]. At times allergic individuals will develop difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, coughing, wheezing, throat closing, vomiting or dizziness. Children… can have their eczema exacerbated.” Most allergic reactions aren’t life threatening. But peanuts can cause anaphylaxis, in which the blood pressure drops suddenly and the airways and throat swell. If not given immediate attention, this could be fatal.

Testing

If you suspect that your child has a peanut allergy, it is a good idea to take them an allergist. Diagnostic methods include: keeping a food diary, doing an elimination diet, and having a skin or blood test. According to some sources, infants may be at a higher risk for a peanut allergy if they already have severe eczema and/or an egg allergy.

Prevention and Management

If you know that your child is allergic to peanuts, the best advice is to steer them clear of intake. These tips, adapted from The Peanut Institute, can also help manage effects if they are accidentally exposed:

  1. Read food labels. These highlight allergens on the ingredient list.
  2. Plan ahead. This is useful when dining out especially.
  3. Practice proper sanitation. Use hot, soapy water to remove cross contamination.
  4. Control asthma. Children should receive proper medical care for this. Asthma is the main risk factor for death due to anaphylaxis.
  5. Carry medicine. EpiPens (epinephrine injector pens) should be carried by anyone with an allergy. They must be used within 10 minutes of exposure.
  6. Let people know. Your child can wear a bracelet or necklace to identify their allergy.

 Cause

The science is not definitive on what causes peanut allergies. Both genetic and environmental factors seem to play a part, with one study showing that family history, eczema,, and exposure to soy protein were associated with allergy development in childhood. The current data doesn’t support the theory peanuts eaten during pregnancy or infancy will lead to allergy later on.

In any case, we hope these tips are useful as you help your children safely enjoy this Halloween!