Chicago—If pharmacists perceive that they are filling a lot of prescriptions for epinephrine autoinjectors these days, here’s a possible reason why: Peanut allergy in children in the United States has increased 21% since 2010.

In fact, research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reports that nearly 2.5% of children in the U.S. might be allergic to peanuts.

“Peanut allergies, along with other food allergies, are very challenging for children and families,” explained lead author Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, of Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “While 21% represents a large increase in the number of kids with a likely peanut allergy, the good news is that parents now have a way to potentially prevent peanut allergy by introducing peanut products to infants early after assessing risk with their pediatrician and allergist.”

The new guidelines introduced at the beginning of this year spell out a process for introducing peanut-containing foods to infants. The recommendations were based on research suggesting that infants at high risk—i.e., those with severe eczema and/or history of egg allergy—were less likely to develop peanut allergy when they were introduced early to those foods.

For the study, more than 53,000 U.S. households were surveyed between October 2015 and September 2016. Increased rates of allergies were found not only for peanuts but also for tree nuts, shellfish, fin fish, and sesame.

The presentation notes that allergy to tree nuts jumped up 18% from 2010 and shellfish allergy rose 7% in the same time period. Overall prevalence of childhood food allergy was 9.3%, with prevalence lowest among infants aged less than 1 year, 3.6%, and highest in children aged 1 to 2 years, 10.7%. After peanuts, the next most common food allergens in children were milk, shellfish, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, soy, fin fish, and sesame, study authors state. 

Researchers also point out an increase in food allergy occurrence in black children as compared with white children.

“According to our data, the risk of peanut allergy was nearly double among black children relative to white children,” added coauthor Christopher Warren, a PhD candidate at Northwestern. “Black children were also significantly more likely to have a tree nut allergy relative to white children. These findings are consistent with previous work by our group suggesting that black children in the U.S. may be at elevated food allergy risk.”