Many families are unaware of the link
“Children with food allergies and asthma have a higher risk of a severe allergic reaction to the food allergy, than does a child without asthma,” says Martha Hartz, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center.
In general, children with asthma are more likely to be allergic to peanuts, as well as other foods, according to Dr. Hartz.
New research, from the pediatric pulmonary clinic at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, examined the charts of 1,517 children and found that 53 percent of families whose children have asthma didn’t know their child also had a peanut sensitivity.
“Many of the respiratory symptoms of peanut allergy can mirror those of an asthma attack, and vice versa,” says Robert Cohn, M.D., lead author of the study. These symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
Dr. Hartz says it’s an issue to be taken seriously. “Peanut allergy is the most common cause of fatal food anaphylaxis in the country. So parents are appropriately concerned.”
Children with asthma who have shown a history of food allergy may benefit from allergy testing, Dr. Cohn suggests. “This study demonstrates children with asthma might benefit from a test for peanut sensitivity, especially when control of wheezing and coughing is difficult to achieve,” he says. “If a physician is having this problem, or if a parent notices it in his or her asthmatic child, they should consider testing, even if they believe their child is not sensitive to peanuts.”
But Dr. Hartz believes screening broadly across the population is likely to cause more problems than it solves, with too many false positive results. “Testing is best when you have a history that is suggestive of a food allergy,” she says. “Screen testing broadly across the population generally causes more problems than it helps. For example, if a child is screened, a child with eczema who has a lot of this allergy antibody, they may have many false positives and then it can lead parents to be very confused about what their child can eat.”
She urges children with known peanut allergies to avoid any foods that may contain peanut products and to carry an epinephrin injector pen in case of emergency. Dr. Hartz also suggests early exposure to peanut products. “One of the ways we’ve recognized that actually helps prevent food allergies is introduce the food early into the child’s diet,” she says. “If it’s an allergenic food that the family eats and the texture is appropriate to give to the child, we recommend that you go head and introduce it.”