Bioethics Blogs

Peanut Allergy: Early Exposure Is Key to Prevention

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With peanut allergy on the rise in the United States, you’ve probably heard parents strategizing about ways to keep their kids from developing this potentially dangerous condition. But is it actually possible to prevent peanut allergy, and, if so, how do you go about doing it?

There’s an entirely new strategy emerging now! A group representing 26 professional organizations, advocacy groups, and federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has just issued new clinical guidelines aimed at preventing peanut allergy [1]. The guidelines suggest that parents should introduce most babies to peanut-containing foods around the time they begin eating other solid foods, typically 4 to 6 months of age. While early introduction is especially important for kids at particular risk for developing allergies, it is also recommended that high-risk infants—those with a history of severe eczema and/or egg allergy—undergo a blood or skin-prick test before being given foods containing peanuts. The test results can help to determine how, or even if, peanuts should be introduced in the youngsters’ diets.

This recommendation is turning older guidelines on their head. In the past, pediatricians often advised parents to delay introducing peanuts and other common causes of food allergies into their kids’ diets. But in 2010, the thinking began shifting when a panel of food allergy experts concluded insufficient evidence existed to show that delaying the introduction of potentially problematic foods actually protected kids [2]. Still, there wasn’t a strategy waiting to help prevent peanut or other food allergies.

As highlighted in a previous blog entry, the breakthrough came in 2015 with evidence from the NIH-funded Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial [3].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.