New research shows a specific type of bacteria on the skin might lead a child with eczema to develop peanut allergies.
A previous study showed that people with eczema are more likely to develop a food allergy if they have a mutation in their skin barrier protein called filaggrin. It’s a gene that keeps skin hydrated and prevents food in the environment from penetrating the skin.
But scientists have yet to find evidence connecting the filaggrin mutation to peanut allergies, specifically, so a team of U.S. researchers continued to investigate possible associations with peanut allergies and eczema patients. They discovered eczema patients with a common bacterial strain called staphylococcus (staph) aureus were extremely allergic to peanuts.
Now there are more questions than ever, according to Donald Leung, M.D., Ph.D., at the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at National Jewish Health.
“We don’t know whether staph occurs before the eczema or vice versa,” Leung said. “That’s a study that needs to be done in the future. We also don’t know if getting rid of the staph will help people with peanut allergies. That’s another study that needs to be done.”
Peanut allergies in children has more than tripled over the last 15 years, and up to 8 per cent of children under three are affected by peanut allergies. Six million children have food allergies and researchers are closer than ever to determining what’s causing this spike — and, more importantly, how we can stop it.
Other researchers have shown that patients with a low T-cell count — or those who lack certain protease inhibitors in their skin — are vulnerable to developing food allergies.
Dr. Bill Miller wrote The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Homogenome and suggests allergies and asthma are caused by a disruption in the colony of bacteria living within and around us. Because asthma and allergy rates are higher in industrialized countries, Miller says we’re living in a different type of association with microbes.
There’s evidence that exposing children to common allergens at an early age can sensitize immune cells at an important stage of development, and Miller says it may also desensitize a body’s microbes so they’re no longer programmed to attack allergen cells.