Nutting it out
“Almost immediately his lips became swollen, his eyes started watering and he began wheezing,” she remembers. “I realised what was happening and rushed straight to the local medical centre, which was just a few minutes drive away. Thankfully, as it was the first exposure, he didn’t need active resuscitation.” Mrs A thinks the peanut remnants that triggered the reaction probably came from a knife she had earlier used to make a peanut butter sandwich. She and her family aren’t what you would call “peanut consumers”, she says, nor do they have a history of food allergy. But, like many Australian families, they now face a fraught lifelong challenge of keeping their child well away from peanuts at all times, and preparing for emergencies in cases of exposure.
It’s hardly news that peanut allergy among children is a growing problem. To take just one example, Dr Ray Mullins, a Canberra-based clinical immunology and allergy physician, estimates that its incidence among ACT children born in 2004 was more than double that seen in 1995 (rising to roughly 1 in 100). Meanwhile, a separate 2006 survey of over 9000 ACT preschoolers found that 2% to 3% were allergic to peanuts. And the Australian experience matches a world wide trend, with similar reports in the US and the UK. Yet exactly why this rise has occurred remains one of the fundamental unknowns about peanut allergy.