Economic Status And Peanut Allergies Linked
November 9, 2012

Higher Peanut Allergy Rate Linked To Higher Economic Status

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

Peanut allergy, an overreaction of the immune system, can cause extremely serious conditions, from swelling and irritation to anaphylactic shock or even death.

The cause of this deadly allergy remains a mystery, but new research presented at American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting has linked higher rates of peanut allergy to families with higher economic status.

Many are drawing the conclusion that higher economic status leads to better hygiene and cleaner surroundings, therefore making a developing child´s immune system more susceptible to allergies because of a lack of germ exposure.

“Overall household income is only associated with peanut sensitization in children aged one to nine years,” said the study´s lead researcher Dr. Sandy Yip, an ACAAI member. “This may indicate that development of peanut sensitization at a young age is related to affluence, but those developed later in life are not.”

The study encompassed over 8,300 patients, of which 776 had registered an elevated antibody level when exposed to the nuts. The study also showed that men and racial minorities were more likely to contract the allergy. The research team also found that the peak age for peanut allergy is between 10 and 19 years old, with middle-age persons reporting the lowest levels.

“While many children can develop a tolerance to food allergens as they age, only 20 percent will outgrow a peanut allergy,” said allergist Stanley Fineman, M.D., the ACAAI president. “It's important that children remain under the care of a board-certified allergist to receive treatment.”

According to ACAAI, peanut allergy affects about 400,000 school children in the U.S. and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that peanut allergy is one of the most frequent causes of food-related death.

While the cause of peanut allergy is unknown, a 2003 study ruled out the possibility of maternal exposure to peanuts during pregnancy or while breast-feeding. That same study linked the allergy to soy milk, but a later Australian study refutes that claim.

One theory surrounding peanut and other allergies is the hygiene hypothesis, which states that a lack of childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms or parasites increases susceptibility to diseases involving the immune system, like various allergies.

Like other allergies, a cure for peanut allergy has not been found, but a 2009 U.K. study at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge found that exposing children to small amounts of peanut flour under carefully controlled situations led to a decrease in the allergic response. The scientists in that study noted that the experiment should not be repeated outside of a research or hospital setting.

Despite the grim warnings and proclamations, there is a segment of experts that attribute the sudden spike in the reports of peanut allergies to mass psychogenic illness brought on by increased awareness and the more ostensible measures taken to safeguard against an allergic reaction.

Mass psychogenic illness (MPI) is described as the rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms throughout the members of a cohesive group that originates from some type of a nervous system disturbance. Females tend to be more susceptible to MPI, which runs counter to the findings of Yip´s study that said males were more affected by peanut allergies.