| good for him: A spotted woodpecker nibbles at a ring of peanuts. (AP/PTI)
Peanut allergy in babies and young children may be caused by creams to soothe eczema and rashes or possibly infant feeds based on soy, researchers have said.
A study has found that creams based on peanut oil, called “arachis oil” in the formulations, caused significant increases in cases of peanut allergy in children treated with these creams in the first six months of life.
A weaker association was found among children with peanut allergy who had been fed soy milk formula feed. Researchers found that children with eczema and allergies were more likely to be given soy milk feed than other babies.
Peanut allergy in children has been increasing in recent years and it is estimated that between one in 70 and one in 100 children in Britain is allergic to peanuts.
The results are the latest data from the Children of the 90s study, an ongoing project involving 14,000 children in the south-west of England.
The report in the New England Journal of Medicine also says there is no evidence that children are born with peanut allergy or that consumption of peanuts by mothers during pregnancy causes it, as has been suggested.
Dr Gideon Lock, who led the research, said: “These results suggest that sensitisation to peanut may occur through exposure to minute amounts of peanut through the skin and may possibly also occur as a result of soya exposure.”
Babies with eczema and prone to rashes are more likely to develop peanut allergy than other babies and the risk of developing peanut allergy rises when the rash is more severe and the skin is broken.
In the study, 49 of the 14,000 children had peanut allergy and more than half of them had eczema-like rashes as babies, compared to 23 per cent of the whole population.
Most of the children with peanut allergy, 84 per cent, had been treated with creams containing peanut oil in their first six months, compared with 53 per cent of children with eczema but no peanut allergy.
Nearly a quarter of children with peanut allergy had been given soy milk formula in their first two months, compared with eight per cent of the whole population.
David Reading, of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said: “There are some creams that contain arachis oil that you can still buy. Some creams have had it removed, but in the past this may have been quite relevant to the development of peanut allergy.
“These could be good reasons for the increase we have seen in peanut allergy and we would now like to see more research in this area to verify the findings.”
The Skin Care Campaign advised parents not to panic. As far as they knew, creams obtained on prescription did not contain peanut oil.