Preventing Food Allergies

Imagine having to ask what's in every piece of food you put into your mouth. That's what 7 million Americans with severe food allergies have to do every time they eat. Just one bite of the wrong food can be deadly. We don't often think of being able to prevent an allergic reaction until the first one occurs. But now researchers say starting early could prevent future food allergies.

It's not easy for Nicki Grimm to find something to eat in a restaurant. She is one of millions of Americans with a severe food allergy.

"We really have to look over the menu. There are a lot of things that you don't realize that have peanuts in them," Nicki's mother, Erika Mullins, says.

For Nicki, one bite of a peanut or shellfish could cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction.

Allergist Barbara Magera, M.D., says there's no cure for allergies, only prevention -- prevention that she says should start before a child is even born.

"If you try to have the mother not eat the foods before conception, during pregnancy and prevented in breast-feeding; as well as not feed it to the child first 6 months of life. There's some evidence now that you can decrease the food allergy," Dr. Magera, of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Clinics in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

Doctors hope avoiding the trigger foods will keep the developing baby from producing the antibodies that cause the allergic reaction. It's a new recommendation that's important if either parent has any type of allergy.

Dr. Magera says, "All you need to do is have allergy in both parents, and it doesn't matter to what latex, bee stings, drug allergy -- that's enough to induce allergy in a child."

A new precaution doctors hope will one day make eating out a little easier for everyone.

New research is also examining ways to genetically alter some foods like peanuts. If researchers can reduce the natural allergens, they hope peanuts will no longer cause severe allergic reactions.