Some allergies are irritating, but peanut allergies can go far beyond just a nuisance. Peanuts, along with tree nuts and shellfish, are the foods that are most likely to cause anaphylaxis—a severe reaction that can obstruct breathing and send the body into shock.
Unfortunately, peanut allergies are getting much worse. According to research presented at the
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, peanut allergies in children increased by 21% between 2010 and 2017. It’s now believed that at least 2.5 % of U.S. children have peanut allergies.
In this article, we’ll answer some questions about peanut allergies and discuss avoidance and treatment methods.
Aren’t peanuts considered to be nuts?
Contrary to what many people think, peanuts aren’t actually nuts—they’re legumes, which puts them in the same category as lentils and beans. Even still, their chemical composition is very similar to a tree nut so they can trigger a similar allergic reaction.
Why does my body overreact when I come in contact with a peanut?
Your body may go into overdrive when you eat a peanut or even when you are exposed to airborne peanut dust. There is nothing inherently wrong with peanuts. Rather, it is your immune system’s overreaction to the peanut that causes problems. In a perfect world, your immune system would simply let you enjoy a chocolate peanut butter cup or PB&J. But when allergy is present, your immune system gets confused and mistakes harmless peanut proteins for invading enemies. In its effort to defend your body, it begins to release chemicals into the body (such as histamine) to “fight off” these proteins. Unfortunately, these chemicals only end up harming you by causing a host of uncomfortable allergic reactions.
How do I know if I’m allergic to peanuts?
Here are some common symptoms:
- Swollen, itchy eyes
- Runny nose
- Skin rash (such as hives)
- Itching or tingling in the mouth and throat
- Sneezing and impaired breathing
- Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Anaphylaxis (may manifest with dizziness, unconsciousness, constricted airways, a drop in blood pressure, and/or rapid pulse)
Consult an allergy doctor if you have signs of peanut allergy. Even if you react mildly the first time around, reactions could worsen over time. And if you display any of the serious symptoms of anaphylaxis described above, call 911.
Will I outgrow peanut allergies?
While children outgrow many of their allergies, some allergies tend to persist into adulthood. This includes nut, fish, shellfish, and peanut allergies. About a quarter of children outgrow their peanut allergies—usually by age 8—but the majority of peanut allergies are lifelong.
Why do so many people have peanut allergies now?
That’s the million dollar question, but there’s no sure answer. Some people espouse the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that because we’re cleaner in modern times, our body is not as good at fighting off infections. Scientists have shown a link between the body mechanisms that attack parasites and those that fight off allergens. With fewer legitimate “invaders” to focus on, the body is turning on things that are harmless.
There’s also a theory that Vitamin D helps our immune systems develop healthy responses, but due to less exposure to the sun, large swaths of the human population are Vitamin D deficient.
And finally, some people think that keeping infants away from peanuts, as we have previously been warned to do, can do more harm than good. Last year, the National Institutes of Health reframed recommendations for the timing of peanut exposure, suggesting that parents should introduce foods containing peanuts to infants between their fourth and sixth months.
How do I manage peanut allergies?
- Prepare. People with peanut allergies should carry two epinephrine autoinjectors with them at all times and know when and how to use them. They should be replaced before their expiration date. If your school-age child has food allergies, make sure to meet with their teacher and other school officials to ensure that staff is trained to assist your child in the event of a serious reaction to peanut allergies.
- Educate. If your child has peanut allergies, teach them how to read food labels carefully. And remember that even if a food does not contain peanuts, if it was manufactured or packed in facilities where peanuts were present, cross-contamination is a real possibility.
- Ask. If you’re eating something that you didn’t make yourself (such as at a party or restaurant) make sure to inquire about food ingredients. Depending on the nature of your allergy—or your child’s allergy—you may have to avoid foods cooked in peanut oil. Note that some types of highly refined peanut oil are OK, but other types of peanut oil could elicit reactions.
- Clean. If someone in your family has a peanut allergy, you probably want to avoid peanut products altogether, but if you do prepare something that has peanuts in it for non-allergic members of the family, make sure that you clean surfaces and any utensils that were used in the preparation. If you’re eating out, make sure that the same care is being taken with the food that you order.
Can I treat peanut allergies?
It used to be that avoidance was the only path for dealing with peanut allergies, but let’s face it—living in fear of a peanut allergy reaction is tough, especially when peanuts lurk in unsuspecting places. It’s hard to think that one bite of the wrong thing could lead to a life-threatening reaction for you or your child.
Fortunately, research is revealing effective treatment options for this widespread allergic reaction. These include oral immunotherapy (ingesting small amounts of trigger foods), sublingual immunotherapy (suspending food proteins in liquid and holding them under the tongue where they are absorbed), and a skin patch that introduces allergens to the body through the skin. All three of these methods operate through desensitization, which means that the body is exposed to allergens in a way that it gradually learns to tolerate them.
While AllergyEasy does not yet offer peanut allergy desensitization, we do offer sublingual immunotherapy for dozens of prevalent allergens—to include milk, wheat, and nut allergy treatment. Contact us to learn more.