Girl eating bread with peanut butter It’s no surprise that peanuts are often feared by parents — the number of kids with peanut allergies has tripled in the past 15 years.

But peanuts can be your baby’s food friend. Really!

New research shows that introducing small amounts of peanut products to your baby can help your child avoid being among the 1 in 50 kids with a peanut allergy.

In fact, giving a little peanut butter or mixing in peanut powder with other foods can ward off allergic reaction to peanuts and prevent peanut allergy development in some people, according to new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

How to safely introduce peanut products to your child

After your baby is already eating other solid foods, you can safely introduce age-appropriate peanut-containing foods at 4 to 6 months, unless your child is at high risk.

High-risk children are those who have severe eczema, an egg allergy or both. In these cases, your child should be screened by a healthcare provider. That provider may complete a skin or blood test first to measure your child’s reaction to tiny amounts of peanut products.

If your child has mild or moderate eczema, you may feel more comfortable asking your primary care provider before you introduce peanut-containing foods.

For babies at no risk: Bring on the peanut-containing foods — just not a whole nut, as it can be a choking hazard. Read these instructions created by the expert panel.

Signs of a peanut allergy

How do you know if your child is having an allergic reaction to peanut products?

Symptoms of a peanut allergy can range from mild to severe. They can come on rapidly or more slowly, emerging over the course of several hours. It is important to monitor your child closely after introducing peanut products.

What are symptoms of an allergic reaction? What should I look for?

Mild symptoms can include:

  • A new rash
  • A few hives around the mouth or face

More severe symptoms can include any of the following alone or in combination:

  • Lip swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Widespread hives (welts) over the body
  • Face or tongue swelling
  • Any difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Repetitive coughing
  • Change in skin color (pale, blue)
  • Sudden tiredness/lethargy/seeming limp

* If you have any concerns about your infant's response to peanuts, seek immediate medical attention/call 911.

Depending on their age, your child may not have the words to describe the reaction they are feeling. Listen for phrases like:

  • My tongue is hot or burning
  • My mouth itches or tingles
  • My mouth/throat feels funny
  • Something is stuck in my throat
  • It feels like there are bugs in my ears
  • My tongue feels bumpy

Very young children may pull or scratch at their tongue or ears, show an increase in drooling or sound different.

The most severe reaction is called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you do not have epinephrine (an EpiPen® or Auvi-Q®) on hand, call 911 to get immediate help.

What to do if your child has a peanut allergy

Avoiding the allergy-triggering food is the number 1 treatment.

Read restaurant menus carefully, ask a lot of questions about ingredients, and request a different preparation if necessary. Peanut is one of the top eight food allergens and will be listed on all packaged and prepared foods.

Create a list of foods your child can’t eat, plus some snacks that they can eat, and share that with schools and family friends.

You’ll also want to keep epinephrine (EpiPen or Auvi-Q) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) on hand, and be sure your child’s school has these too.

As your child matures, you and your allergist will also teach them about their food restrictions and how to ask questions and advocate for themselves.

A peanut allergy myth

Contrary to urban legend, a child’s peanut allergy cannot be triggered by a classmate eating a peanut sandwich across the table. The allergens are not airborne in this way.

Younger children do need to be monitored so they don’t “share” foods accidentally. Wash eating areas and hands with soap and water after eating so a smudge of peanut butter doesn’t accidentally get transferred to a child with an allergy.

However, it is not necessary to ban all peanut products from a school because one child is allergic. Peanut allergy is just one of many food allergens. Talk with your allergist about common safe practices for school. There are many resources available to help manage school safely for a child with food allergies. 

Contributed by: Megan O. Lewis, MSN, RN, CPNP
Date: April 2018