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Peanut parties not the answer

A reader wonders how to take the trauma out of kids’ food allergies

QUESTION:

What is the safest way to give my baby her first taste of peanuts? I’ve heard of parents having “peanut parties” in the park next to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, or feeding their child in the carpark of the doctor’s surgery, for fear of a severe allergic reaction.

Would this be necessary for each and every exposure in the early days, or just the first time?

What do you need to watch out for, and how long would it take to show up? If a child starts having a reaction, how much time do you have?

ANSWER:

Peanut allergy affects about 3 per cent of children, so many parents are anxious about giving their child their first taste of peanut.

Some families have been known to gather in the parklands near the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (The Advertiser, 20/11/11) in case their child has a reaction.

These “Peanut Butter Parties” are not endorsed or supervised by the Allergy Unit at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

To reduce the risk of choking, peanuts and other nuts can be given to young children in the form of nut pastes.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy offers infant feeding advice on their website (www.allergy.org.au). The society does not promote delayed introduction of any foods, including peanut, into an infant’s diet in the first year of life.

Peanut butter and other nut pastes may be introduced around the same time you are introducing bread into your baby’s diet. Start with a small amount first (1/4 teaspoon). If there are no symptoms, the amount can be increased to what would be an appropriate amount for the child’s age.

Trying to test tolerance to peanut by smearing a little on the skin can give a false result as it is common to have skin reactions to a food, but to tolerate it when eaten.

Symptoms of a food allergy include a prominent skin rash (hives), swelling (usually of the face), vomiting, difficult or noisy breathing, or in rare cases, collapse.

Minor facial skin rash following contact with food is common in young children and is usually due to skin irritation rather than a food allergy.

If your child has symptoms after eating any food, especially if there are any breathing difficulties or collapse, emergency medical attention should be sought.

If you think your child might have a food allergy, see your general practitioner to help identify the trigger for your child’s reaction. You should also learn how to avoid the food in your child’s diet, have a first aid plan, and have information regarding long-term management of their allergy.

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