By MARTIN JOHNSTON and AGENCIES



Health experts are warning against treating eczema with skin creams containing peanut oil because of a possible link to peanut allergy.



The allergy can cause anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.



British scientists have found that 90 per cent of children with peanut allergy previously had eczema, a skin complaint.

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The link between the allergy and eczema is not proven, but some experts believe that exposing broken skin to peanuts or peanut oil, also called arachis oil, could trigger peanut allergy.



The British study of 12,000 children and their parents - the eczema part was done by St Mary's Hospital, London - found that as many as one child in 100 may have peanut allergy.



Up to a quarter of New Zealand children suffer from eczema.



An Auckland allergies specialist, Dr Vincent Crump, said yesterday that he was not surprised by the British findings. He said fear of steroids drove many people to avoid using cortisone, the standard treatment for eczema.



He discouraged treating eczema with creams or bath oils containing sesame oil or any nut oils. Applying a "strong allergen" to broken skin produced a good chance of becoming sensitised to it. Children already sensitised could have their eczema aggravated.



Allergy New Zealand president Natalie Lloyd said many nappy-rash creams contained peanut oil and this often was not revealed on the label. The group wants all ingredients listed on skin treatments.



She said it was widely thought that the oils in creams, lotions and cosmetics were often refined and did not cause episodes of allergic reaction, but they played a key role in sensitising people, and fostering and generating the allergy.



"A real worry are the creams marketed for eczema, which is an allergic disease and

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very often the first marker or sign of allergy in a baby or young child."



Stiefel Laboratories makes Polytar emollient, which contains peanut oil, for use in baths to treat eczema and other skin conditions. Managing director of the Australian division Ian Slater said last night that only a tiny amount was sold in New Zealand and he assumed it was being used for psoriasis.



Douglas Pharmaceuticals and PSM Healthcare confirmed they use peanut oil in zinc and castor oil cream, which is commonly used in nappy rash creams.



A Douglas manager, Regan Cooper, said the company would look at dropping peanut oil from its recipe, "since this information has come to light."



A PSM manager, Paul O'Brien, said the company had no record of any complaints of allergies linked to its zinc and castor oil cream.



Auckland mother of two, Nina McSweeney, whose peanut allergic four-year-old, Cole, has twice been close to death with anaphylactic shock, said she had used nappy-rash cream on him.



He has had eczema since aged six months and his first allergic attack was at 13 months.



His mother said his eczema treatments did not appear to contain peanut oil. She did not want to speculate on whether the nappy-rash cream might have contributed to his allergy, but said she would not use it if she had another baby.