Do you believe these common myths about peanut allergies?

Food allergies can be complex. That’s why you see so much misinformation and misconceptions around food allergy diagnosis, reactions, food bans and more.

As part of the National Peanut Board’s $21 million investment in food allergy research, outreach and education, we commissioned The Bantam Group to conduct a consumer survey to better understand awareness, perceptions and attitudes towards food allergies.

The online survey, which interviewed 2,000 parents and caretakers with at least one child in school, found that people are confused about food allergies.

Below are a few key findings from the survey, including the facts about four common myths many respondents believe.

MYTH #1: Peanuts are the most prevalent food allergy.

27% of respondents from the survey thought peanut allergy was the most common food allergy.

While peanut allergies are not the most common, they are among the top eight food allergens. Reactions to any food allergen can be serious and sometimes life-threatening. Research indicates that the most common allergen varies based on many factors, particularly the age of the individual with food allergies. In the U.S., fewer than 1% of the population has a peanut allergy. [1]

MYTH #2: Just being in the same room with someone eating peanuts can cause an anaphylactic reaction.

30% of respondents from the survey think that being in the same room where peanuts are served and eaten can trigger a reaction.

Simply being in the presence of an allergen does not cause life-threatening reactions. Likewise, anaphylaxis does not occur as the result of touching a food, rather it is the result of ingesting the protein.  Research has shown, for peanut in particular, that skin contact may cause a local reaction (redness, itching or swelling at the site of contact), but did not lead to a systemic response in studies.  [2]

MYTH #3: Food allergies can be accurately diagnosed by alternative health practitioners or by a family member.

Adults in the survey were less likely to self-diagnose and more likely to report that a family member (26%) diagnosed their food allergy.

Diagnosing a true food allergy is a complex process, which is why it is important to see a board-certified allergist to determine whether symptoms are caused by a true food allergy. Based on the individual’s history of reactions to specific foods, there are several tools that allergists can use to help diagnose a food allergy, including skin-prick testing and blood testing, but neither of these are diagnostic alone. An oral food challenge is considered the gold standard for diagnosis. [3]

MYTH #4: Families with food allergies universally support bans in schools.

According to the survey, households with school age children are likely to believe bans on peanuts/peanut butter are helping children with allergies at school (36%).

Research has shown that banning peanuts in schools may actually increase the risk for reactions and bans do not reduce the frequency of epinephrine use. [4, 5] Food bans, such as peanut and tree nut bans, are not recommended by experts in food allergy since they may create a false sense of security for those with allergies and their caregivers. Allergic reactions are unpredictable and any food can cause a serious and even life-threatening reaction.  It is not possible for schools to ban all foods that may cause anaphylaxis, nor should they do so. A newly published paper showed that there was no significant difference in administration of epinephrine (an indicator for severe reactions) in Massachusetts schools that banned peanuts as compared to those that do not. Additional research is required to identify which interventions work best to manage food allergies.

The issue of food allergy management can be complex, but understanding the facts can help. To continue to learn more about food allergies, bookmark www.PeanutAllergyFacts.org, explore our sections for families, schools, and others, and visit often for updates.

 

 

[1] Prevalence of Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy in the US Determined by a Random Digit Dial Telephone Survey. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999

[2] JACI. Simonte, S, et al. Relevance of casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy; Perry, et al. Distribution of Peanuts in the Environment

[3] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Finding a path to safety in food allergy: Assessment of the global burden, causes, prevention, management, and public policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[4] AACI. Accidental exposure (AE) to peanut in a large cohort of Canadian children with peanut allergy. Available at https://aacijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1710-1492-10-S1-A32

[5] JACI. Impact of School Peanut-Free Policies on Epinephrine Administration. Available at http://www.jacionline.org/