Nut allergies may be on the rise in children

Wed May 19, 2010 8:51pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Schools may have a good reason for banning nuts from the classroom and canteen with a U.S. study finding the number of children allergic to peanuts and tree-nuts may be rising.

Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that between one and two percent of children in the United States may have allergies to peanuts or tree nuts, with rates seemingly tripling since 1997.

A similar study in Canada by McGill University in Montreal came up with similar rates of allergies but had no previous data to see if the numbers were on the rise.

Peanuts and tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts are the most common causes of severe, sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions to food in the United States.

Recent research has suggested that while the percentage of children with these allergies remains relatively low, rates may be on the upswing, although no one is sure why these allergies may be on the rise.

Some researchers suspect the so-called "hygiene hypothesis" may be contributing to allergies more generally as today's clean living createsg less exposure to germs from early life on and may impact the immune system.

But Scott Sicherer from Mount Sinai School of Medicine said one hypothesis has to do with how peanuts are processed. In roasted form peanuts may be more likely to trigger allergies.

"The current results highlight the need for more research on food allergy prevention and treatment strategies," he said.

"The study is unique because we used the same (survey) methods three times over an 11-year period and assessed specific food allergies in the general U.S. population. Nothing like this has been done before," Sicherer told Reuters Health.   Continued...