Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) is actually a bean/legume vine plant that grows underground. It is related to other beans (such as peas, beans and lentils) but it is probably unnecessary to avoid the other legumes unless your doctor tells you otherwise. It is more common for someone with peanut allergy to also react to nuts from trees, particularly almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, or cashews. However, some peanut allergic patients find they can eat these nuts without a problem. In many cases peanuts and tree nuts may be processed on the same manufacturing equipment. This may make the nuts unsafe due to cross-contamination of the allergen. Please consult and follow your doctors advice.
What does a peanut allergy mean?
Peanut allergy is one of the most common, serious and potentially fatal food allergies. It is an immune response (involving the IgE antibodies) to peanut protein, causing the release of histamine chemicals in the body which result in a host of symptoms. Anaphylaxis is a severe IgE antibody triggered reaction which requires urgent medical attention and the administration of epinephrine to stop the reaction.
What is Anaphylaxis to Peanuts?
Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death.
Anaphylaxis is highly likely to occur when any ONE of the following happens within minutes to hours after ingestion of the food allergen:
1. A person has skin symptoms or swollen lips and either : Difficulty breathing, or Reduced blood pressure.
2. A person was exposed to a suspected allergen, and two or more of the following occur: Skin symptoms or swollen lips, Difficulty breathing, Reduced blood pressure
Gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping)
3. A person was exposed to a known allergen, and experiences: reduced blood pressure
What are the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction?
An anaphylactic reaction may begin with a tingling sensation, itching, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Other symptoms can include hives, a sensation of warmth, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, coughing, swelling of the mouth and throat area, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms may begin within several minutes to two hours after exposure to the allergen, but life-threatening reactions may get worse over a period of several hours.
In some reactions, the symptoms go away, only to return two to three hours later. This is called a “biphasic reaction.” Often these second-phase symptoms occur in the respiratory tract and may be more severe than the first-phase symptoms. Studies suggest that biphasic reactions occur in about 20 percent of anaphylactic reactions.
Why the increase in peanut allergies?
Studies show that there has been a sharp increase in peanut allergies over the last 5-10 years, particularly in children, not only in the US but in Australia and the UK. A common question is why? Although no definitive answer is available, there are several theories:
- that we introduce peanuts to children too early;
- the increased use of soy in formula and other processed food (soy and peanut are both beans);
- and the use of roasted peanuts in food (heating changes the protein which the body is more likely to react to), rather than raw/boiled peanuts.
- The hygiene hypothesis which believes that our immune systems have little to fight anymore because we live in a cleaner, healthier, antibacterial world and therefore, the immune system reacts to certain food proteins and mistakes them for a threat.
- A lowered immune function due to increased antibiotic use, vaccinations, high processed food and pesticide use are also factors to be considered.
The smell of peanuts or even second hand contact like kissing or shaking hands with someone else who has eaten a peanut product has been reported to produce an allergic reaction. People with severe peanut allergy are at risk of suffering anaphylactic shock.
Understand Cross Contamination
When a food that is usually considered a “safe food” comes in contact with peanuts or nuts making it unsafe. This can happen through:
- Manufacturing processes, such as shared food lines.
- Shared cooking or serving utensils.
- Accidental peanut ingredients making it into “safe” meals.
Things You Should ALWAYS do
ALWAYS Read All Labels
All labels must be read every time you make a purchase, even if the product has been safe in the past.
- Manufacturer's change ingedients
- Products can be manufactured in different plants that are unsafe, and shipped from different parts of the country.
ALWAYS Make Sure That All Cook Ware and Utensils Used to Prepare Foods Have Been Washed Well
Many times, someone may use a utensil, cooking sheet, pot or pan to make something that my have contained peanuts, peanut butter or peanut oil. Always make sure all cook ware and utensils used to prepare foods have been properly cleaned.
Always make sure that you ask questions, and feel comfortable that the person serving your food is aware of your allergy. It is important that individuals preparing food are knowledgeable about food allergies and understand how to keep the foods that they prepare safe.
Peanut Allergy Treatment
Currently there is no medical cure for peanut allergies. Strict avoidance is the key to staying safe.
Medications, such as antihistamines, may reduce symptoms of peanut allergies. These drugs can be taken after exposure to peanuts to control your reaction and help relieve discomfort. However, the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut proteins altogether.
Despite your best efforts, you may still come into contact with peanuts and have a severe reaction. In this case, you may need an emergency injection of adrenaline (epinephrine) and a trip to the emergency room. If you're at risk of having a severe reaction, you may need to carry injectable epinephrine with you at all times. Check with your Doctor.
For more information of food allergies, reactions and treatment, consult your physician.