Life-threatening peanut reactions among children have become ‘almost epidemic’, an expert has warned.
Dr Scott Sicherer, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, said the rise in cases is impossible to deny.
Peanut allergies tripled from affecting one in 250 children to just one in 70 between 1997 and 2008, a study by the institute found.
An obsession with cleanliness, where youngsters are not allowed to play in the dirt, is thought to have weakened their immune systems and driven the rise in allergy cases.
It comes after 15-year-old Megan Lee, from Accrington, died from a severe allergic reaction on New Year’s Day 2017 after she placed an order with an Indian takeaway despite warning them she was allergic to nuts.
Peanut reactions among children have become ‘almost epidemic’, an expert warned (stock)
‘It really is almost an epidemic,’ Dr Sicherer told CNBC. ‘When you’re living with a food allergy, it’s like you’re living in a landmine situation.
‘Every meal, every snack, every party, every social activity — is that food that can hurt me going to be there?’
He added anecdotal reports from school nurses suggest two children in every classroom suffer from a peanut allergy.
Allergies occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies food as a threat and launches an protective response against it.
Symptoms can include sneezing, itchy eyes, wheezing, hives, swelling, and even vomiting and diarrhoea.
In severe cases, this can trigger the life-threatening reaction anaphylaxis, which can cause breathing difficulties, confusion and a loss of consciousness.
Although children often have allergies to other foods, such as dairy and eggs, they usually outgrow these. But peanut allergies tend to be lifelong.
One possible explaination for the rise in peanut allergies is the ‘cleanliness theory’.
This suggests that protecting children from exposure to dirt makes their immune systems weaker.
Last year, the National Institutes of Health stated early exposure to peanut allergies may help to prevent the reaction.
Under new clinical guidelines in the US, parents are advised to introduce peanuts into a baby’s diet ‘as early as four to six months’.
In the UK, parents are advised to give children crushed up peanuts from around six months, if there is no history of allergies in the family.
Food allergy treatments that are in development largely aim to increase tolerance rather than curing the condition.
Dr Sicherer added that increasing tolerance from one hundredth of a peanut to even just two nuts would be a significant breakthrough for child safety.
Around a dozen different treatments are in the pipeline, he said.
His comments come after UK pharmacists were told to check whether young children really need EpiPens, which are routinely doled out by the NHS and used by millions of allergy sufferers.
Amid a ‘critical’ global shortage, the NHS has told chemists to ask parents how many adrenaline pens they have at home before deciding how many to give out.
SCHOOLGIRL, 15, DIED FROM A SEVERE ALLERGIC REACTION AFTER EATING FOOD FROM A ‘DIRTY TAKEAWAY DESPITE WARNING STAFF SHE COULD NOT EAT NUTS’
Megan (pictured) was just 15-years-old when she passed away after eating food from the Royal Spice Takeaway
A 15-year-old girl died from a severe allergic reaction after she placed an order with an Indian takeaway that was so dirty it was infested with mouse droppings, a court heard earlier this month.
Megan Lee, who had a peanut allergy, began fighting for breath after she ate a seekh kebab, onion bhaji and peshwari nan bread, which she ordered from the Royal Spice Takeaway curry house via the app Just Eat.
She was taken to hospital but died two days later.
A jury heard although the food she ate did not ordinarily contain nuts, all were found to have traces of nut and the kitchen it was prepared in was branded a ‘hazard to public health.’
Investigators carried out hygiene tests at the Royal Spice in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, and found dirty and stained kitchen appliances, as well as staff who were untrained in how to deal with food that could spark allergic reactions.
Samples were taken and results confirmed a ‘widespread presence’ of peanut proteins.
The takeaway was subsequently shut down.
Mohammed Abdul Kuddus, 40, who owned the takeaway, and delivery driver Harun Rashid, 39, who used to own the business, faced charges of manslaughter over Megan’s death on New Year’s Day 2017.
Manchester Crown Court heard the youngster, from Accrington, who was due to sit her mock GCSEs, was diagnosed with a nut allergy when she was eight.