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How Common Are Food Allergies?

A Pediatric Food Allergist Explains Nut Allergies in a Way That'll Make New Parents Sigh With Relief

While some people could happily survive only on peanut butter, others can go straight into anaphylactic shock if the nuts are in the same room as them. So as parents, figuring out if your baby has nut allergies can be anxiety-inducing. We spoke with David Stukus, MD, pediatric allergist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, to help put parents' minds at ease when it comes to introducing peanut products to their kiddos.

"The vast majority of parents do not need to worry about anything prior to feeding their infant peanut products or any other allergenic foods for the first time," he told POPSUGAR. "Food allergies are rare, only affecting approximately five percent of children, thus most kids will never experience an allergic reaction."

"There is no reason to treat the introduction of foods like a medical procedure."

There is a small part of the population, however, who are actually more likely to have food allergies than others. And believe it or not, your child's eczema may have something to do with it.

"Infants with severe eczema that persists despite the daily use of skin moisturizers and requires treatment with prescription-strength topical steroids are at highest risk to develop food allergies. Parents of these children should discuss when and how to introduce peanuts with their pediatrician before giving at home."

If your kiddo is eczema-free, Dr. Stukus encourages parents to have a little fun with introducing your baby to nuts.

"For everyone else, there is no reason to treat the introduction of foods like a medical procedure; parents can start introducing age-appropriate peanut products (never whole or partial peanuts due to choking risk) when the baby has shown interest and ability to eat other solids."

And while there have some alternate ideas to introducing little ones to peanut products — like rubbing peanut butter on baby's leg rather than letting them ingest it, for example — Dr. Stukus says that may not be effective.

"If parents are anxious about feeding their kids peanuts for whatever reason, putting peanut butter on a child's leg at first may provide reassurance. However, absence of symptoms on the skin does not rule out an allergy after ingestion," he said, adding that, "In addition, some kids will have rashes from skin contact due to irritation but are able to eat peanuts just fine; these kids run the risk of avoiding peanuts unnecessarily if this occurs."

Dr. Stukus wants parents to know that the chances of kids having peanut allergies are exceedingly rare and explained that parents can be cautiously optimistic.

"There is a lot of misinformation and unnecessary fear surrounding peanuts, but peanut allergies only affect about one percent of all children. Even for those children who develop peanut allergies, they rarely if ever have a severe or life-threatening reaction with the first exposure," he explained. "We have excellent evidence that the earlier infants start eating age-appropriate peanut products regularly, the better chance they have of never developing an allergy."

The guidelines outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommend introducing peanut products to your child early on, even if your little one has eczema. They suggest letting kids who fall into this category try peanuts between 4 and 6 months old, as long as allergy testing has been completed by a pediatrician.

For moms and dads who are still treading lightly, Dr. Stukus suggests taking a slow and steady approach.

"If parents are worried, they can always proceed slowly by allowing their infant to have a few small bites, then wait 10 to 15 minutes to see if any rashes or other symptoms develop before feeding more. They can also try age-appropriate options like peanut butter thinned with water, peanut flour, or powder mixed into a pureed food or cereal."

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