NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More than one in four children with nut allergies can't identify the nut that they are allergic to, a new study shows.
The findings suggest that well-meaning parents may be being a little too protective for their children's own good by banning nuts completely from the home, so children never see what they look like, Dr. Ronald M. Ferdman of the Children's Hospital Los Angeles told Reuters Health.
"Kids just have to get that skill to be able to protect themselves, instead of relying on their parents for the rest of their lives," he said.
Ferdman and his colleague Dr. Joseph A. Church of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles constructed a "nut box" containing 11 varieties of common nuts under glass. They then asked 100 children, 37 of whom had nut allergies, to name the different types of nuts. Children with nut allergies were also asked to say which of the nuts they could and could not eat.
The children ranged in age from 4 to 19 years. On average, the children were able to identify 2.7 nuts. Eighty-nine percent of the children spotted peanuts in the shell, while 52 percent recognized shelled peanuts.
Children with nut allergies were actually less able than those without allergies to correctly identify shelled and unshelled peanuts, although this may have been because they were slightly younger on average than the non-allergic kids, Ferdman and Church note in their report in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Among the nut-allergic children, 73 percent either correctly identified the nut they were allergic to, or said that they would not eat any of the nuts. However, 27 percent said that it would be OK for them to eat at least one of the nuts to which they were allergic. Among these 10 children, six identified peanuts in the shell as the nuts they should avoid but said they could eat the shelled peanuts.
"It is possible that the parents of peanut-allergic children did not allow peanuts in their homes and that their children, therefore, never had the opportunity to learn to recognize them," the researchers note.
The most appropriate approach for the youngest children with nut allergies may be to tell them to avoid nuts completely, Ferdman noted in an interview. However, parents can also teach children how to identify nuts by showing them pictures of the nuts or pointing out different types of nuts in the grocery store.
The findings, he added, "point out that parents really need to teach their child specifically what to avoid."
SOURCE: Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, July 2006.