Are Nut Allergy Precautions Going Too Far?

January 06, 2009 01:33 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
A Harvard professor says people are becoming hysterical over their fear of nut allergies.

“Nuts Over Nut Allergies”

Approximately 3.3 million Americans in the United States have nut allergies, and although the allergies can be quite serious, a Harvard professor says Americans are probably going too far to protect themselves.

According to Time magazine, a school district in Massachusetts recently evacuated a school bus full of children after a peanut was found on the floor. In 2006, a town in Connecticut cut down three large hickory trees (which produced nuts) near the property of a woman who said her grandson had a nut allergy.

Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and social scientist who has a child in the Massachusetts school district, decided to write an article after the school bus episode. Christakis’ article, which was published in the British Medical Journal, questioned whether “so-called precautions” about nut allergies were becoming more of a “societal hysteria.”

Each year, there are 30 million hospitalizations in the United States, according to The New York Times Well Blog, with only 2,000 due to food allergies. Approximately 150 people a year die from food reactions. Meanwhile, 10,000 children a year are hospitalized with brain injuries from sports; 2,000 children drown a year; and 1,300 die in firearms accidents.

“We try to relieve anxiety about nut allergy by signs saying, ‘this is a nut free zone,’ which suggests that nuts are a clear and present danger,” the Well Blog quoted Dr. Christakis as saying. “But in doing so, we increase the anxiety.”

“The issue is not whether nut allergies exist or whether they can occasionally be serious,” professor Christakis said in an article by The Daily Telegraph. “Nor is the issue whether reasonable accommodation should be made for the few children who have documented serious allergies. The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies and what to do about the responses and the allergies themselves.”

Opinion: Thoughts on nut precautions

Dr. Calman Prussin, who heads the Adverse Reactions to Vaccines and Biologics Unit of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Dr. Christakis is right that precautions against nut allergies are “not always rational,” according to MedPage Today.

In fact, an article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology stated that “strict avoidance” of nuts can make the situation worse for allergy sufferers. MedPage Today explained that “earlier and more frequent consumption of peanuts or peanut butter may reduce the risk of peanut allergy, contrary to conventional thinking.”

Meanwhile, Jalene Cotton, a mother of two daughters with nut allergies, practices strict vigilance to avoid allergy problems with her kids. “We’ve always avoided any nuts, we don’t allow any nuts in our home,” Cotton told The Florida Times-Union. “Every three years they get tested to keep track of the allergy. ... Because the allergy can worsen or cease, it is important to keep testing to stay informed.”

Related Topic: Peanuts banned from the ballpark

In 2008, baseball stadiums around the country started experimenting with peanut-free seating sections so that fans with deadly peanut allergies could attend games. Concession stands near these zones would not serve peanuts or foods that might have traces of peanuts, and the sections would be meticulously cleaned.

Reference: Allergies


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