Household income tied to risk for peanut allergies

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Wealthier families are more likely to have children with peanut allergies, new research finds.

According to the allergists presenting the research, the findings might be a function of what's called the "hygiene hypothesis." That's a theory that states a lack of exposure to germs increases a child's risk for allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of his or her own immune system.

The research, led by Dr. Sandy Yip, an allergist and Major with the U.S. Air Force, involved more than 8,300 patients, 776 of which had elevated antibody levels of peanuts, which suggests sensitivity to peanuts.

The researchers found overall household income was associated with a greater likelihood in peanut sensitization in children ages 1 through 9, which suggests economic status had an impact on younger children but not those who developed peanut allergies later in life, Yip said in a press release.

Peanut allergies were also found to be more common in males and in racial minorities, regardless of age. However the researchers also found peanut specific antibody levels -- which measure immune system response -- peaked in children and adolescents ages 10 through 19, but tapered off after middle age.

The study was presented last Friday at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) meeting in Anaheim, California. The findings are considered preliminary since they have not been published yet.

Peanut allergies affect 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. While many children may outgrow certain food allergies like those to milk, eggs and soy, they are much less likely to outgrow a peanut allergy. Allergic reactions to food can range from mild to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include problems swelling of the lips, tongue, throat and other parts of the body; breathing and swallowing; vomiting; diarrhea; dizziness; dangerously low blood pressure; loss of consciousness; and death if untreated, WebMD reports. Those who have had severe reactions previously may be prescribed an epinephrine shot.

In June, a study found children who grow up in a city are more likely to have a food allergy than children who grew up in rural environments. Specifically, city children were twice as likely to have peanut (2.8 percent compared to 1.3 percent of a surveyed data pool of 38,500 children younger than 18).

"While many children can develop a tolerance to food allergens as they age, only 20 percent will outgrow a peanut allergy," allergist Dr. Stanley Fineman, M.D., ACAAI president said in the press release. "It's important that children remain under the care of a board-certified allergist to receive treatment."

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