New guidelines: feed babies peanut products to drastically reduce risk of peanut allergy

Peanut allergies can be life-threatening, there is no treatment, and for unknown reasons, cases are on the rise.

Many parents of children with peanut allergies constantly read labels, worry about which foods their children are exposed to at school, and carry EpiPens in case of an anaphylactic reaction to even a tiny amount of dust from foods containing peanuts.

However, researchers are now putting parents at ease after a new study shows babies who are fed peanut products early in life have an 81 percent chance of warding off the allergy by training the baby's immune system to get used to peanuts.

"That's a whole generation of children who never have to develop this allergy," Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, an allergy specialist at Children's Hospital Of Colorado, told NBC News. "We actually want all children to have peanut introduced."

New guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases state that parents of babies with the highest risk of developing a peanut allergy should introduce peanut products, such as peanut powder or paste, as early as four to six-months-old.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Whole peanuts are a choking hazard and should not be given to children under the age of four.

The new guidelines may sound surprising to parents who have been told in the past to avoid anything peanut-related until their child reaches the age of three.

Babies at highest risk for developing a peanut allergy are born with severe eczema, or an egg allergy, or both.

Parents of high-risk babies should have the infant's pediatrician present when first introducing the peanut-containing food, such as during an office visit.

Babies born with at a moderate risk for peanut allergy are born with mild to moderate eczema and should be introduced to peanut-containing foods at six-months-old.

Infants without eczema or any food allergy are free to consume peanut products at any time.

In all cases, parents should monitor their baby's response to the new food, looking closely for things such as rashes or shortness of breath.

Additionally, babies should be introduced to other solid foods before starting peanut-containing foods.

Researchers conducted a clinical trial with more than 600 infants at high risk of developing a peanut allergy.

The babies were randomly divided into two groups with one group given peanut-containing foods regularly, and the other group being told to avoid peanuts altogether.

When the infants reached five-years-old, researchers found that the group who consumed peanut products early in life reduced their risk of developing the allergy by 81 percent.

"Living with peanut allergy requires constant vigilance. Preventing the development of peanut allergy will improve and save lives and lower health care costs," NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. said in a statement.

Allergy experts say the process is very safe, pointing to earlier studies that showed none of the tested infants given peanut protein suffered severe allergic reactions.