Asthma, peanut allergy combo not so uncommon

Your child struggles to breath. He starts wheezing and coughing. You rush for the inhaler because you know he has asthma, so it must be an asthma attack, right? Maybe not.

A new study shows some kids with asthma also have an undiscovered peanut allergy that could be triggering similar symptoms.

Asthma is the number one reason Dayton Children’s admits patients — and the number of kids with asthma is increasing. It’s estimated that more than seven million children nationwide have asthma — it’s the most common chronic childhood disorder. Peanut allergies are also on the rise. One study reported cases tripled between 1997 and 2008. The two together can make it difficult for a child to control their symptoms, especially if they aren’t aware they are sensitive to peanuts.

Robert Cohn, MD, MBA, medical director of the pulmonology department at Dayton Children’s, studied the connection between peanut allergies and childhood asthma. His research findings recently appeared on NBC Nightly News and in Time Magazine. “Children with asthma might not be recognized as having a peanut sensitivity,” says Dr. Cohn. “Many of the respiratory symptoms of peanut allergy can mirror those of an asthma attack, and vice versa. Examples of those symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. This study aimed to evaluate the proportion of asthmatic children who also demonstrated a sensitivity to peanuts.”

Dr. Cohn studied more than 1,500 children from the pediatric pulmonary clinic at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. The study found 11 percent of the kids had a documented history of peanut allergies. Another 44 percent had taken a blood test to look for antibodies that would indicate a peanut allergy. Of that 44 percent, 22 percent had a positive test f or peanut sensitivity. However, more than half of those children and their parents did not think peanuts were a problem for them.

“This study demonstrates children with asthma might benefit from a test for peanut sensitivity, especially when control of wheezing and coughing is difficult to achieve. If a physician is having this problem, or if a parent notices it in his or her asthmatic child, they should consider testing, even if they believe their child is not sensitive to peanuts,” says Dr. Cohn. “Parents of children with asthma should also understand that there may be asthma medicines that are not advised in children with peanut allergies. Since any allergy can act as a trigger for an asthma attack it might be helpful to have the child screened for a peanut sensitivity.”

Dr. Cohn just presented his findings at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Denver. He urges much more research should be done on the connection between asthma and peanut allergies to better help children, their parents and their pediatricians better control symptoms and manage their health.

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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital. Email: newsroom@childrensdayton.org.

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