What is it?
Peanut allergy is caused when the body reacts to the proteins found in peanuts (also called groundnuts, monkey nuts or earth nuts). It thinks these are harmful and tries to attack them, causing allergic symptoms. Peanuts are part of the ‘legume’ family and are different to other nuts such as Brazils or hazelnuts which belong to the ‘tree nut’ family, although some people can be allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts.
Who gets it?
Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies in children affecting around 1 in 200 in the UK. It is being diagnosed earlier, and more often in children. For about 1 in 5 children peanut allergy can resolve itself, however for the others it is likely that the peanut allergy will remain for life.
Why does it happen?
Nobody really knows why a peanut allergy affects a certain person, but allergies do have a genetic link meaning that if others in your family have an allergy then it is more likely that you or your child will have an allergy.
The Government used to recommend avoiding peanuts when pregnant
due to the belief that this may increase the chance of the baby having a peanut allergy, however this has now been shown not to be the case. More research into why peanut allergy occurs is currently ongoing.
What should you do if you think your child has a peanut allergy?
If during weaning you suspect that your child has an allergy to a product containing peanuts then it is important not to give them anything containing peanut again until you have spoken to your GP. Your GP may want to do several things; take a family history, a skin prick test (SPT) or a blood test (called a RAST). If symptoms are severe and obviously linked to peanuts then this may not be required.
Is there a treatment?
The only treatment currently available is to avoid all peanuts and peanut-containing products. Care should also be taken with other ‘tree nuts’ as some people can be allergic to both. If your child is diagnosed with peanut allergy at a very young age then your GP may discuss re-introducing peanut (under medical supervision) at a later age to see if they have ‘grown out’ of it.
What do you need to avoid?
All peanuts and peanut-containing products, such as peanut butter, chocolate and nut spread, peanut sauces, peanut flour and peanut oil. Peanut allergies can be very severe so even traces of peanut in products should be avoided. Labels should be carefully checked on all products but especially eastern foods, cakes, desserts, biscuits, pastries, breads, cereals and confectionery. By law peanut has to be listed as an ingredient. Supermarkets can provide lists of ‘nut free products’ but ingredients lists should always be checked for the most up-to-date advice. The term ‘this product may contain traces of nut’ is legally required to be displayed on packaging when the product may have come into contact with nuts during the manufacturing process, however this does not mean the product does contain nuts nor does it mean that it doesn’t, so should be interpreted with caution.
Peanuts are not considered to be important to our diet so avoiding them should not cause any problems nutritionally, however if you feel that by trying to avoid foods containing peanuts your baby is not eating properly then you may want to see a dietitian for more advice.
All HiPP packaging contains an ingredients list; they also have a 'CONTAINS' box (found in yellow underneath the ingredients list). As of October 2011 no HiPP products contain peanuts; however if there might be traces of nuts then this will be mentioned in the 'CONTAINS' box.