Louise Schmidt with her 18-month-old son Cooper, who has a cashew nut allergy. Photo: Sarah Harvey
Louise Schmidt with her 18-month-old son Cooper, who has a cashew nut allergy. Photo: Sarah Harvey

Nuts pose deadly threat to toddler

LOUISE Schmidt doesn't need statistics to tell her the rates of food allergies in children are on the rise.

She is all too aware of the growing epidemic, with her 18-month-old son Cooper diagnosed with a severe cashew nut allergy at just eight months of age.

Mrs Schmidt said she became aware there might be a problem when she had been with family on a picnic, with her son's skin flaring up as family members who had eaten the nuts touched the little boy.

She said a specialist had diagnosed her son with the allergy, the diagnosis meaning all types of nut and products with nut oil, such as shampoo and facial cream, were banned in their Redbank Plains home.

The diagnosis means the 36-year-old and husband Rick have to scrutinise each and every product label at the supermarket and carry an Epipen (emergency device that can inject adrenaline) with them wherever they go in case the 18-month-old has an anaphylactic shock.

“Some might call me paranoid or neurotic with regards to the things I do (like wiping down tables or chairs or even play toys when we are out) but other mums with children who suffer from anaphylaxis will know exactly how I feel,” Mrs Schmidt said.

“Their life is just too precious to chance and, unfortunately, Cooper's allergy is life- threatening.”

A food allergy is an immune system response to a food protein that the body mistakenly believes is harmful.

There are nine foods that account for the majority of food allergic reactions, including peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, cashews and pistachios), fish, crustacea (prawns, lobster, crab), eggs, milk, sesame, soy and wheat.

Peanuts are the leading cause of severe allergic reactions, followed by tree nuts, crustacea, fish and milk.

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) up to 15,000 children born each year in Australia will develop an anaphylactic food allergy before the age of five.

Anaphylaxis is an unpredictable and potentially life-threatening condition.

Grange Road Medical Services GP Lisa Moreton said she was increasingly seeing patients, mainly children, with some form of food allergy.

“More so we are seeing younger children with allergies after they are exposed to solid foods for the first time,” Dr Moreton said.

“Certainly not all food allergies are anaphylactic, others cause much milder reactions.”

President of Anaphylaxis Australia Maria Said said one-in-10 children now had a food allergy, three in 100 a peanut allergy and up to 8% of children an egg allergy.

Ms Said said while there were no clear reasons for the increase in food allergies, there was a number of theories.

“One of the key theories is because we are all so clean now, our immune system loses the plot when it comes into contact with something as simple as food proteins, which for most are safe and healthy,” she said.