Those suffering with an allergy are never truly understood by people without them, with their allergies often being taken less seriously than they should. My sister-in-law has a nut allergy.  On one occasion, her post-nights husband breakfasted unthinkingly on crunchy nut cornflakes before driving home to kiss his wife. The traces of nuts were enough to set off an impressive facial swelling. And it was finally clear to the nut-loving family that she had married into, just what having a nut allergy means.

The recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine reported what can be viewed as breaking news in the world of allergy. To date, parents with multiple allergies were told to avoid feeding their children – particularly in the first year of life – with highly allergenic foods (such as peanuts, milk, egg, tree nuts) in order to reduce the likelihood of them developing allergies. Following observations to the contrary, a controlled trial was started to test this hypothesis. Specifically, peanut allergy – being one of the commonest food allergies and also potential one of the most life-threatening –  was studied. The results were published this week.

Over 500 children at high of a peanut allergy (for example those with eczema or milk allergy) were randomly assigned to either receive peanuts in their diet on a regular basis or to receive a peanut-free diet. Before enrollment, the infant were checked with skin pick tests, to rule out a severe sensitization against peanuts. At 5 years of age, the children were given a peanut challenge to determine the prevalence of peanut allergy. The prevalence of peanut allergy in the group avoiding peanuts was 17.2% as compared with 3.2% in those who consumed peanuts 3 times a week over a period of 5 years.

The clarity of the results suggests that guidelines are likely to be changed in the future and will hopefully lead to a fall in the currently rising levels of peanut allergy. And it will be interesting to see what the implications are for other food allergies.