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Teens and Kids with Food Allergies Need to Be Careful About Kissing
Are You a Careful Kisser?
For most parents of teens, when the topic turns to kissing, over-protective thoughts abound. "I've got two daughters and I think they should never kiss anyone!" exclaimed Roger Friedman, MD, Clinical Professor of Allergy, Immunology, and Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
All joking aside, parents of food-allergic children have even more cause to be wary of smooching. Today, 3 to 4 million children are affected by food allergies, and allergic reactions can be triggered not just by consuming food firsthand. Kissing—ranging from passionate to a peck on the cheek—can also prompt a reaction.
"You're pretty unlikely to have anything severe happen from a kiss. But it can happen and you need to be smart," Dr. Friedman advised.
Kissing becomes a problem when anyone—from a grandparent to a date—consumes an allergen before smooching a food-allergic child or teen.
"A peck on the cheek from a parent or relative will almost always only result in a local reaction such as a welt or hive; it's very unlikely to cause any severe reaction that you’d be worried about," Dr. Friedman explained.
He recommends teenagers, especially, play it safe.
Todd D. Green, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Children''s Hospital of Pittsburgh, agreed.
"If a date cares enough about you to kiss you, hopefully they’ll care enough to refrain from eating the food you’re allergic to that day," he said.
Kissing (and even sharing utensils, straws and cups) causes exposure to food allergens through saliva, which can contain enough allergen to cause local and systemic allergic reactions.
In a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, participants ingested two tablespoons of peanut butter to establish how long the peanut allergen stays in saliva. Researchers collected the saliva of the participants at different times, and also evaluated mouth-cleansing techniques (brushing teeth, rinsing and chewing gum.
According to the study, "the most effective way to avoid causing an allergic reaction, if you’re going to eat the food to which your partner is allergic, is to eat the food several hours before a kiss and have a meal free of the allergen before you kiss—although not eating the food at all would always be the safest approach," said Dr. Green.
Though the risk of having a severe allergic reaction from a kiss is small, there is always a slight possibility, said Dr. Green. "Unfortunately you can’t predict the amount of protein that will be transferred during kissing, and it is difficult to predict the reaction," he said. That said, it is better to err on the safe side.
Dr. Friedman reminds parents that a kiss is unlikely to be 'the kiss of death.'
"Worry about the right things," he advised. "Overall, the risks of developing a severe reaction from a kiss are rare and unusual."
Food allergic children and teens should follow these pointers before they pucker up:
Maloney J., Chapman M., Sicherer S. (2006). Peanut allergen exposure through saliva: Assessment and interventions to reduce exposure. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 719-24.
Approved by KFA's Medical Advisory Team February 2008.