Children’s allergies to food are being triggered by a mix of environmental factors from an early age.


According to a new Northwestern Medicine study, the factors that co-exist to trigger food allergies in infants are dust, baby wipes that leave soap on the skin, genetics that alter skin absorbency, and exposure to food from caretakers.

“This is a recipe for developing food allergy,” said Joan Cook-Mills, lead author of the study and a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It’s a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life.”


Cook-Mills made the discovery by using clinical evidence about food allergy in humans, the effects of food allergen and environmental allergen exposures and neonatal mice with genetic mutations that occur in humans.

“They are exposed to environmental allergens in dust in a home,” Cool-Mills said.

“They may not be eating food allergens as a newborn, but they are getting them on their skin. Say a sibling with peanut butter on her face kisses the baby. Or a parent is preparing food with peanuts and then handles the baby.”


The factors that cause food allergies can be controlled in the home environment.

“Reduce baby’s skin exposure to the food allergens by washing your hands before handling the baby,” Cook-Mills said.

“Limit use of infant wipes that leave soap on the skin. Rinse soap off with water like we used to do years ago.


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