A new blood test could provide parents with a safe and accurate way to diagnose potential peanut allergies in their children without having to go through the stressful process of feeding them peanuts for the first time.
Feeding your child peanuts for the first time can be a tense experience, so much so that we’ve heard stories of parents parking in the A&E hospital car park before spooning peanut butter into their toddler’s mouth – just in case an adverse allergic reaction called for immediate medical attention.
According to Food Standards Agency estimates, peanut allergies are among the most common food allergies in children, and so it’s no surprise that for many parents testing for this allergy by feeding a small child peanuts can be a stressful and risky process.
However, this may soon be a thing of the past, as thanks to a new test developed by Medical Research Council scientists, a simple blood test could diagnose a peanut allergy in kids – no peanut butter necessary.
According to researchers from the MRC & Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, the new test, called the mast activation test (MAT), is 98% accurate and is five times more cost-efficient than the standard oral food challenge allergy test.
The blood test would also eliminate the risk of causing a potentially severe allergic reaction in children, such as anaphylactic shock, a welcome development for parents and children with potential allergies.
Dr Alexandra Santos, an MRC Clinician Scientist at King’s College London, paediatric allergist and study lead author, said: ‘The current tests are not ideal. If we relied on them alone, we’d be over diagnosing food allergies — only 22 per cent of school-aged children in the UK with a positive test to peanuts are actually allergic when they’re fed the food in a monitored setting.’
‘The new test is specific in confirming the diagnosis so when it’s positive, we can be very sure it means allergy. We would reduce by two-thirds the number of expensive, stressful oral food challenges conducted, as well as saving children from experiencing allergic reactions.’
The new peanut allergy test won’t be widely available for some time, as it is yet to be tested in a clinical setting.
Current UK guidelines recommend avoiding giving your child peanuts and foods containing peanuts before the age of six months.