Peanut allergy myth: Peanut allergies were invented by overprotective parents

You're Nuts | When Peanuts AttackMyth: Back when I was a kid, no one I knew was allergic to peanuts. So peanut allergies must be a silly fake illness made up by today’s overprotective parents.

Reality: A peanut allergy is a real and serious medical condition. Peanut allergies ARE on the rise among children, but scientists do not know why.

It’s absolutely true that a few decades ago, peanut allergy diagnoses were not as common as they are today. However, peanut allergies are not some sort of psychosomatic illness foisted on children by their crazy helicopter parents.

According to multiple studies published by respected groups like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, food allergies in general and peanut allergies in particular have increased sharply over the past few decades.

One survey study by allergists at Mount Sinai Hospital, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that while 0.4% of children surveyed were reported to have a peanut allergy in 1997, 1.4% percent of children reported a peanut allergy in 2008 — indicating that the number of children with peanut allergies tripled in just one decade.

Though there are many interesting theories on what may be behind this increase in dangerous food allergies among children, there is as yet no scientific consensus on a primary cause.

But it is undeniable that food allergies, including peanut allergies, truly exist. Food allergies are widely recognized as a serious medical condition by the medical community. 

The CDC says, “Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern [ . . . ]  Allergic reactions can be life threatening and have far-reaching effects on children and their families.” The Mayo Clinic says, “Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.”

And in most cases, is a fairly simple matter for a doctor to determine whether or not a person genuinely has a serious food allergy. Doctors can test for food allergies in a clinical setting using a blood test, a skin prick test, or a food challenge to prove that a person has a true food allergy. And most doctors will not prescribe medication or a treatment plan for a person with a food allergy until they have performed such testing.

So when a parent says, “An allergist diagnosed my child with a peanut allergy,” that means that the child has been tested by a medical professional and shown to have a real and serious medical issue.

Managing a life-threatening peanut allergy is difficult and stressful. The parent of a child with a peanut allergy must monitor every single piece of food his or her child eats, take the child to all sorts of extra doctors’ appointments, and constantly carry around expensive life-saving medication. It is not a thing an even marginally sane parent would make up just to get attention. Trust me on this one. If I could give my child back the life he had before his peanut allergy diagnosis, I would do so in a heartbeat.