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May Contain Nuts

May Contain Nuts

By Neal Anthwal

These days it seems that every second kid has a mild peanut allergy. But do they really? Research at the University of New South Wales has now revealed that many children who appear to be positive to peanut allergies in tests have no such condition. Neal Anthwal is less than surprised.

Middle class parents - don’t you just love ‘em? Proof, if proof were needed, that a little knowledge is a bad thing. “I’m afraid little Archie will have to bring his own dinner to Molly’s birthday party.” says a self-described ‘yummy-mummy’, “He’s so terribly allergic to most food. He can only eat an ayurvedically designed macrobiotic diet.” While you’re trying to extract some meaning from the phrase ‘ayurvedically designed’, mummy’s little angel is sat in the mud eating worms.

"Let me just get me flat cap, pipe and slipper and say that in my day we never had all these allergies."
I speak as both the product of middle class parenting, and maybe one day an exceptionally middle class parent, so this isn’t some kind of reverse snobbery. Think of it more as your typical, liberal middle class self-loathing.

I know I’m not alone in suspecting that many of the allergies and intolerances that seem to be on the rise are not what they seem. Let me just get me flat cap, pipe and slipper and say that in my day we never had all these allergies. As far as I can remember
there was one girl in our year who had a severe nut allergy, and that was it.

In a study by Brynn Wainstein and colleagues, published in Paedicatric Allergy and Immunology, children who appear to test positive for peanut allergy using a standard prick test were challenged with peanuts in a hospital environment, and their reaction observed. By “challenged with peanuts”, we mean they were given them to eat, though other suggestions of what a peanut challenge might entail are more than welcome.

Prick tests work by introducing a tiny amount of allergen into the skin and waiting to see if an allergic reaction on the skin, or hive, will develop. Standard practice says that following a prick test for peanut allergen, a hive greater than 8mm in diameter indicates that the subject has an allergy. Wainstein et al found that of those children whose hives were between 8 and 10 mm, only 67% actually reacted upon eating peanuts, although hives of 15mm and more were 100% accurate in predicting the nut allergy.

The upshot is that many parents are avoiding feeding their kids nuts, and products that may contain them, wrongly worrying that they may have a very dangerous allergy.“There is a population of children who have never eaten peanuts – or worse, those that eat them everyday, then have a positive peanut skin test and are told not to eat them.” said Dr Wainstein, “If the child is able to tolerate normal amounts of peanut every day then the result of any peanut allergy test is irrelevant.”

But how do you convince parents to start shovelling potential death seeds down little Archie’s throat? Okay, so maybe he’s not allergic, but what kind of a yummy mummy would be willing to take the risk?

Get more from Neal on his page.

More nutty stuff:

Phunny phobias: Peanut butter
Peculiar periodicals: The Journal of Peanut Science
A different kind of nutty: Life aquatic with nutjob
Image: W

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08 Sep 2010
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