Newswise — MAYWOOD, IL - As baseball season opens many parents are concerned about their children’s exposure to the “peanuts and Cracker Jack” icons that many feel are a part of the baseball experience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 4-6 percent of school-age children have a food allergy; one of the most common food allergens is peanuts. There has been a rise in the number of children with allergies and the cause is still unknown, but new research and techniques are providing hope to allergy sufferers, parents and physicians.

“Every case is different, every child is different, but we are seeing some great research and results for new ways to help children who have peanut and other food allergies,” said Joyce Rabbat, MD, Division Director of Pediatric Allergy at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

A revolutionary study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports the theory that early exposure to peanuts can help protect against peanut allergy. In the past doctors recommended parents avoid nut products for young children; in 2008 this recommendation was withdrawn, as studies showed that eliminating food allergens from the diet did not prevent the development of food allergies. This study shows that children who regularly ingested peanut beginning in the first year of life were at less risk of peanut allergy at age 5 than children who avoided peanuts.

“The study reaffirms our recommendations that, generally, early ingestion is protective against food allergies. Rabbat said. “This is especially true if the child has eczema. If the skin barrier is not intact and the child is exposed to the allergen through the skin, he or she may be at greater risk of developing an allergy. Ingesting the allergen early in life seems to help protect the child.”

What she says the study still needs to address is whether tolerance remains after a prolonged cessation of peanut consumption.

“What we don’t know is if this is a permanent change. If the child goes a while without eating the allergen will he or she lose their tolerance?” Rabbat said.

Rabbat encourages parents who have a child who is at high risk for allergies to talk to a pediatric allergist to discuss how to introduce allergenic foods.

“What is exciting about this research is that it is supports our recommendations that exposing kids early to allergens can be protective,” Rabbat said. Rabbat says there are many factors that play into a food allergy and the age when a child is exposed to an allergen is only one of the factors. Another way to protect children from food allergies is to exclusively breastfeed for at least 4 months.

Though the new study is compelling it is relevant only for primary prevention, not treatment for children who are already diagnosed with peanut allergy. Still, there is hope on that horizon as well. There is a lot of research being done to determine if exposing children with food allergies to small amounts of the peanut allergen or other food allergens on a regular basis will help the child develop a tolerance. There are several treatment delivery options under investigation:• Oral: ingesting through the mouth• Sublingual: letting it dissolve under the tongue• Skin Patch: dry food powder taped to the skin

“So far, food allergen immunotherapy has been shown to be effective, meaning that patients can develop a tolerance to the food while on the study. However, after discontinuing the study protocol and avoiding the food, many patients will begin to react again.” said Rabbat.

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###About Loyola University Health SystemLoyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. At the heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.