Eating is supposed to be fun for children, but if they experience life-threatening allergic reactions to certain foods, then it’s another story.
A child’s immune system is generally underdeveloped until after the age of three or four. Until then, children are susceptible to allergic reactions to unknown foods. Normally, reactions could be mild to moderate such as rashes, nasal congestion, wheezing, and diarrhea, occurring right after eating. But sometimes, children can have more severe reactions, especially to peanuts.
Peanuts are not really nuts, but legumes, that contain a protein that can possibly cause a fatal allergic reaction. Other children are so sensitive that even merely breathing in small particles of that food, like on airplanes, can trigger their allergy. Residue of peanut material on a wiped counter top, cutlery, or plates may also induce a reaction. Also, most commercially manufactured food products can contain peanuts as a hidden substance, and this is something that parents should look out for.
The onset of a peanut allergy can be immediate, or delayed for a few hours after ingestion. On the skin, there could be red, bumpy rashes or hives, eczema, or redness and swelling around the mouth, known as oral allergy syndrome. In the gastrointestinal tract, the allergic child might experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. In the respiratory tract, the symptoms can range from a runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and asthma.
The child can experience a laryngospasm, characterized by immediate swelling that spreads to the vocal cords as the food is swallowed. If the vocal cords swell shut, the child is unable to breathe and can die at any moment. The second way a peanut allergy can kill is from an anaphylactic shock occurring as long as two hours after ingestion. The shock is due to a sudden blood pressure drop, narrowing of the airways, and tongue swelling, resulting in serious breathing difficulty, and unconsciousness. The reaction progresses so rapidly resulting in death within minutes.
Treatment and Prevention
If peanut allergies are evident in the child’s family history, then doctors recommend not giving peanuts or any other peanut product to children until after the child is age three or four.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, mothers with a family history of allergies should not eat peanuts, among other problem foods. In breastfed babies, proteins from peanuts that their mother has eaten can be carried into their little bodies through their mother’s breast milk, possibly sensitizing the infant early on in life.
Most food allergies are outgrown, but peanut allergies are usually life-long. Parents should educate themselves about the condition and learn to check product labels for possible hidden peanut ingredients. When eating out, they should take the extra precaution of asking the chef how the food is prepared, or if the food contains peanuts. Inform the child’s teachers and caregivers about his condition, and always have him bring an injectable epinephrine kit every time just in case of a reaction.
Consultations about peanut allergies and other food allergies are better than none, especially if you suspect that your child’s life is at risk.