For years, parents have been told to avoid feeding their infants and toddlers peanut-containing foods to help protect them from developing peanut allergy. Now, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has issued guidelines indicating that approach was wrong.

For years, parents have been told to avoid feeding their infants and toddlers peanut-containing foods to help protect them from developing peanut allergy. Now, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has issued guidelines indicating that approach was wrong.  

“The new guidelines are recommending early introduction of peanut-containing foods because this has been shown to decrease the risk of developing peanut allergy,” said Shari Neill, M.D., a pediatrician at Lake Regional Clinic – Camdenton.

Peanut allergy is a serious, even life-threatening, problem for which no treatment or cure exists. People living with peanut allergy, and their caregivers, must be vigilant to avoid foods and environments that could trigger allergic reactions. The allergy tends to develop in childhood and persist through adulthood.

Although it seems logical to believe the best way to avoid peanut allergy is to avoid peanuts, research has shown the opposite to be true: In a clinical trial, regular peanut consumption begun in infancy and continued until 5 years of age led to an 81 percent reduction in development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants.

How at risk infants are for peanut allergy determines how early they should be introduced to peanut-containing foods. The guidelines divide infants into three categories.

The first category includes infants who have severe eczema, egg allergy or both. These infants are considered to be at high risk of developing peanut allergy, and the guidelines recommend introducing them to peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months of age. “Allergy testing is advised before introducing the peanut product to these children, so these families should check with their doctor first,” Dr. Neill said.

The second category focuses on children with mild or moderate eczema. The guidelines recommend introducing these children to peanut-containing foods around 6 months of age.

The final category is infants without eczema or any food allergy. The guidelines offer no specific recommendations for infants in this category, suggesting instead that these infants “have peanut-containing foods freely introduced into their diets.”

In all cases, infants should demonstrate the ability to eat other solid or pureed foods before being introduced to peanut-containing foods.

“Because the new guidelines break with conventional wisdom, I expect parents will have questions,” Dr. Neill said. “I encourage them to bring those questions to their children’s doctors, who can help them make sense of the guidelines.”

The new clinical guidelines are based on findings from the landmark, NIAID-funded Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study, a randomized clinical trial involving more than 600 infants.

Lake Regional Health System provides comprehensive health care services to the residents and visitors of the lake area. The medical staff includes pediatricians, family medicine providers and pediatric hospitalists who provide outpatient, emergency and nursery care. To learn more, visitwww.lakeregional.com.