I was watching a very interesting segment of the late night broadcast of ABC’s World News Now about an 8 year old girl, named Riley Mers, who is so severely allergic to peanuts, that even if she has mere contact with something that has had peanuts could trigger off a such a severe reaction to her that it could send her to the hospital, and worse, she would have only six minutes to reach a hospital before her body goes into shock. (1) Since Riley Mers’ life is anything but normal due to her peanut allergy, she has to constantly wear gloves while in school, and she has another safeguard to protect her from possible contact with peanuts: her Portuguese water dog, named Rock’O. This is no ordinary dog either, but a dog that has been trained to sniff and hunt out anything area that may have peanut residue, much in the same manner that dogs are trained to hunt for drugs or bombs.
Rock’O isn’t the only dog to have been trained to hunt down anything or anyplace that might have had contact with peanuts, but is one out of about six dogs that have been trained by Tina Rivero who is head of the Angel Service Dogs and is thought by having such trained dogs could quite literally be a true life-saving aid for anyone who may have a severe life-threatening allergy to something as simple as peanuts.
When I heard this story, I couldn’t help think, what is happening? Why does it seem we hear more and more of these very severe cases of food allergies that can be life-threatening? It’s not uncommon for people to have allergies to certain foods, as this has been going on for perhaps centuries, but I never remember hearing about allergic reactions as being so severe, to the point where the food in question. especially with peanuts, can be so severe to trigger off anaphylactic symptoms, which can range from dizziness, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure to even loss of consciousness.(2)
Some common foods that many people for instance, can’t tolerate well are usually anything containing wheat products or shellfish, and in the past it seemed that if eaten, the person might merely suffer from a rash, or hives, the most severe known reaction would have been perhaps triggering asthma like conditions. My own great-grandmother for instance, had an allergy to strawberries, and as much as she loved the taste of them, couldn’t eat them, otherwise she would break out in a rash. But now it seems that in the past few years, we’re hearing more and more cases, where, if a person eats the slightest hint of a food, especially something that has a trace amount of peanuts, that they are known to be so allergic to send them to a hospital. Also, who ever heard, in years past, where even the mere contact with something that has peanuts could trigger and cause an allergic reaction in children? In fact, I’ve been reading a few articles that for the past few years many air flights, which used to regularly serve peanuts as a snack are now “peanut” free and will now usually serve something like pretzels on board instead.
Peanuts for some reason, seems to be the number one food to trigger allergic reactions and the number of people having these allergic reactions, especially in children has doubled over the years. Why? Even the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (JCAI) and other researchers don’t have an explanation.(3)
Some theories that are kicking around about the rising surge of peanut allergy is that in America, as part of the manufacturing process with peanuts for any food product containing peanuts is that peanuts are roasted rather than boil them as they do in most Asian countries. If this were so, however, we would have seen severe allergic reactions amongst more people centuries ago. The consumption of peanuts in general, goes back as far as 950 B.C. in South America where the peanut was indigenous to that continent, it then became a commercial type crop in the southern states in the early 1800s and peanut butter itself made its debut in the late 1800s.(4) Which one of us now, can fondly remember when we were children being given that most famous of all lunch sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly? Who can’t remember as children, when we went trick or treating being perhaps given one of our favorite candies, that being, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as a “treat”?
Another theory kicking around is the suggestion that if women consume peanuts while pregnant or nursing they pass the peanut protein into their baby which could later trigger the allergy to peanuts later on when the child is slightly older. Somehow however, this doesn’t sound right to me, as I would think that by the pregnant or nursing mother who consumes peanuts at this time would actually in effect give and develop in their child an immunity to any allergic reactions to peanuts, much in the same way as immunizing children with vaccines to prevent the disease itself, as vaccines contain the very same elements of the disease itself to strengthen immunity to that particular disease. If it were true that the developing baby being exposed to peanuts by its mother while pregnant or nursing, that ultimately riggers peanut allergies, then wouldn’t a child then develop an allergy to any and all foods the pregnant or nursing mother consumes?
The last theory, however, is the one I perhaps favor the most and sounds the most logical as to why, perhaps in general, children are being more and more affected by allergies to begin with. It is the suggestion that the higher level of allergies in general, not just due to peanuts in children, is due to something that has only been around only a few decades, and that is all the products that are anti-bacterial in nature. Its only been in the last few decades or so, that many of us have gotten rather germ-phobic. We purchase product after product of cleaners that are anti-bacterial, from soaps, detergents, disinfectant sprays, and yes while its great to keep one’s home sparkling clean and germ free, it may actually have been backfiring for two reasons. One, by killing off germs and viruses that we are essentially exposed to every single day of our lives, in many instances this has paved the way in developing the “super” viruses and germs that have become immune and stronger in nature by all this frenzied cleaning. Two: germs and viruses have been around since time began, we have been exposed to them everyday, and our system has naturally created tolerances and immunities to so many of the germs and viruses; if we hadn’t mankind no doubt would have become extinct long ago. With all this frantic cleaning that so many mothers may do to safeguard their children from these germs and viruses it has backfired now in that today’s children don’t develop the same immunities to them as we did when we were children. To quote very briefly from this one source: “Too much antibacterial zeal could wipe out the very immunogenic stimulation that has enabled us to cohabit with microbes in the first place.” (5)
Whichever theory may be the actual fact, what is now occurring in the scientific community is the idea of trying to treat peanut allergy by exposing children to the very thing they are allergic to and that is by giving children daily doses of peanut flour which will eventually allow the child to develop an immunity to the allergic reaction they formerly may have had. (6) If this does indeed prove successful, hearing stories about children like Riley Mers, whose allergy to peanuts is so severe and needs to have a “peanut-sniffing” dog to find areas exposed to peanut residue may be a thing of the past.
Article About Riley Mers
Riley Mers Story
Articles About Peanut Allergies
Allergic Child (3)
Peanut Allergy (2)
No Peanuts On Flights
History of Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter (4)
Anti-bacterial Frenzy (5)
How to Treat Peanut Allergies (6)
Treatment For Peanut Allergy