Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. It is also the allergen most frequently associated with anaphylaxis. Peanut allergy among children continues to rise, and to date, there is no way to prevent it. The most common treatment for food allergy is avoidance. But what do you do if you don’t know whether your toddler is allergic to peanuts?
Generally, physicians do not test for allergy prior to exposure and reaction. If you’re introducing new foods, or your child is going into day care or preschool, exposure to peanuts could become a bigger concern. So how can you detect and manage peanut allergy in toddlers?
When is it Safe to Introduce Peanuts to Children?
New guidelines introduced in 2017 by the National Institute of Health recommend that parents begin introducing food products that contain peanuts as early as 4-6 months of age. There is increasing research that shows early introduction of peanuts to infants could prevent later development of peanut allergy. However, researchers, doctors and allergists first caution that it is important to figure out whether your child might be at risk for peanut allergy. This question can be answered by talking with your pediatrician when discussing the introduction of solid foods into your infant’s diet. Signs to watch out for that may indicate your child is at risk include:
- History of severe eczema, dry, itchy skin and rash
- Allergy to eggs
If there is a sign that your child might be at risk, further testing could be the next step before introducing any peanut-containing foods.
Managing Peanut Allergy in Toddlers
If your toddler has previously been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, managing it can be difficult. Toddlers do not yet have the ability to grasp the seriousness of allergies, they have new found mobility and lots of curiosity, and other people may not be as careful as they think they are, leaving allergens lying in reach. The following tips could help prevent accidental exposure.
- Remove all peanut-containing food from your home. Avoidance is the current best practice for managing allergies. Removing all foods that contain peanuts as an ingredient from your home can dramatically reduce the chance of accidental exposure.
- Read labels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict guidelines about how ingredients for processed foods must be labeled, and mandates for alerts that allergens are or may be included in the product. Generally, the eight major allergens, including peanuts, must be clearly named on the packaging. The identification can be either in the form of a “contains” statement separate from the ingredient list, or in parentheses after an alternative name such as “enriched for (wheat flour…).” For more information about how allergens must be listed on food products, check out the 2016 FDA current guidelines.
- Talk with family, friends, teachers and caregivers. Your toddler interacts with people from various aspects of your life and theirs. Be sure to include those people in your management plan. Ensure they are aware of your toddler’s allergy and what they can do to help keep your child safe while interacting or in their care. Many schools and camps are now “peanut free,” but if they are not, it can be beneficial for all the adults in your toddler’s life to be on the same page.
- Be prepared at social events. Call ahead to find out what’s on the menu if the social gathering is food centered, and alert the host of your toddler’s peanut allergy. Regardless the hosts intent, other people might still bring allergen laden food products to the event, so you may want to be prepared for hurdles.
- Bring treats you know are safe for your child to eat.
- Ask the host if they mind you bringing treats to contribute to the party, so you can ensure your toddler doesn’t feel “left out” of eating what “everyone else” is eating.
- Keep an emergency first aid kit with an epinephrine autoinjector nearby.
- Pay attention to potential mishaps, like someone leaving a candy wrapper laying around and discard it before your toddler gets ahold of it, to prevent any accidents. This could be extremely difficult and is not foolproof, but it can help minimize accidental emergencies.
- Know the signs and symptoms of allergic reaction. The most common symptoms of peanut allergy in toddlers include:
- Itching, hives or swelling
- Trouble breathing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Know what to do in case of an allergy emergency. If your toddler experiences anaphylaxis, the first line of treatment is epinephrine. Follow the instructions on your autoinjector and call 911 for emergency medical response. Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction.
Dealing with potential peanut allergies in toddlers can be an overwhelming undertaking. But with a little information, preparation, buy in and help from friends and family, the task can become much more manageable.
Do you have a toddler with a peanut allergy? Join the discussion below. Let us know how you manage your toddler’s peanut allergy at home or away.