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Dr. Wade Watson

Are Smears on a Football a Risk for Nut Allergies?

Q: My son goes to high school next fall and wants to try out for the football team. He has peanut and nut allergies, so is there a risk of him coming in contact with nut residue on the ball? Other boys will eat products containing these foods. 

Dr. Watson: For children and young adults with food allergies, there is always concerns about cross-contamination. Your question about it in regards to the football is a good one. My colleagues and I did a small study in which peanut was smeared on a basketball player’s hands. After she washed her hands with soap and water, there was no evidence of transfer to a basketball. I think that would be the same for a football.

As well, the situation is different from that with younger children. You are dealing with young adults, so firstly, the changes of other players having significant peanut allergen on their hands would be very small. Children under 7 years old would be at a much higher risk, because they are messy eaters. Secondly, the chances of significant transfer from hands to the ball and back to your son’s hands would be extremely small.

Even if small amounts of residue did get transferred on occasion, your son would only need to get into the habit of ashing his hands with soap and water after practice. This easily removes any contamination from hands. The chances of your son then putting his hands in his mouth and having a reaction would be even smaller.

Dr. Wade Watson is a pediatric allergist and Professor of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University. He is also the head of the Division of Allergy at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

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