Three million Americans suffer from peanut allergies.
Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts is one of the leading causes of fatal food-related reactions. Even a small amount of peanut exposure can cause a life-threatening reaction.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment for a peanut allergy.
What Is a Peanut Allergy?
When a person is allergic to peanuts, their body overreacts to eating peanuts or exposure. With a peanut allergy, the body identifies peanuts as harmful. Peanut allergies are often life-long, but 15-22% of children will outgrow their allergy.
Peanut Allergy Symptoms
The severity of the allergy will determine the types of symptoms you will see. Some patients react to skin contact or breathing in peanut dust, in rare cases. Cross-contamination or accidental contact can still cause allergic reactions.
Allergic reactions can show up as skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Swollen or red skin
- Throat tingling or itching
- Runny nose
- Watery, red eyes
- Tongue swelling and/or lips
- Swelling around the eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Stomach cramps or abdominal pain
- Vomiting or nausea
- Difficulty breathing
The most severe symptom that can come with a peanut allergy is anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a reaction to an allergen that affects the whole body. It is life-threatening.
Anaphylaxis can cause trouble breathing and swelling in the throat. It can also cause blood pressure to drop suddenly. Some may experience pale skin and blue lips, fainting, and dizziness.
A person with anaphylaxis may also experience confusion and dizziness. They may also have a weak, rapid pulse.
Causes of Allergic Reaction
When your body thinks peanuts are harmful, it releases symptom-causing chemicals into your blood. This can happen from direct or indirect exposure to peanuts. Your immune system reacts to the peanut proteins, causing an adverse reaction in your body.
Ingesting peanuts or foods with peanuts is the main cause of an allergic reaction. Direct contact with skin can also cause an allergic reaction.
Cross-contamination, or cross-contact, occurs when peanuts are accidentally in a product. Sometimes food is exposed to peanuts during processing. It can also occur when peanuts have come in contact with eating surfaces or utensils.
Dust or aerosols containing peanuts or peanut derivatives can cause an allergic reaction. This may include peanut flour or peanut oil spray.
Peanut Allergy Causes
It is unknown why some people have peanut allergies while others do not. There are risk factors that give people a higher chance of developing a peanut allergy.
Children are the most likely to have food allergies. Among children, toddlers and infants have food allergies the most. As children grow and their digestive systems mature, the body is less likely to react to foods that cause allergies.
Past Allergy to Peanuts
Some children may outgrow their allergies. Though, they may show up again later in life.
If you have allergic reactions to one type of food, you are at a greater risk of developing allergies to another food. If you have any type of allergies, such as hay fever, you are also at an increased risk of having food allergies.
Family Members with Allergies
If other members of your family have allergies or food allergies, you may be at an increased risk of developing allergies.
It can be difficult to diagnose a peanut allergy as the symptoms vary from person to person. A single person may not experience the same reaction each time they get exposed to peanuts. If you think you or a family member has a peanut allergy, make an appointment with an allergist.
If you notice a reaction to peanuts you should record a few things to share with your doctor. They include:
- The symptoms experienced
- What you ate and how much
- When symptoms started after ingestion
- How you relieved the symptoms
- How long the symptoms lasted
An allergist may suggest you get a skin test or blood test to check if there is a peanut allergy. They may recommend an oral food challenge in which you eat small amounts of peanuts. This test is done in a medical center in case of a severe reaction.
Peanut Allergy Treatment
The most basic way to prevent an allergic reaction to peanuts when you have a peanut allergy is to avoid peanuts or peanut products. Researchers have started to study different ways of treating peanut allergies. One way they have found success is through oral immunotherapy.
Oral immunotherapy is also known as desensitization. During this process, children with peanut allergies, or those at risk for a peanut allergy, get increased doses of peanut products. It is not a cure but can reduce the risk of severe reactions when exposed to peanuts or peanut products
In 2020, the FDA approved an oral immunotherapy drug, Palforzia, to treat children between 4 and 17 with peanut allergies. It is not recommended for those with uncontrolled asthma. Even with the drug, those with peanut allergies should still avoid contact with peanuts.
If there has already been exposure to peanuts or peanut products, be prepared with a reactive treatment option. Severe reactions may require the use of an auto-injector containing epinephrine. Many people with peanut allergies carry these auto-injectors with them.
Make sure you understand how to use your auto-injector and carry it at all times if you have a peanut allergy. Make sure it is up to date and have a backup auto-injector on hand. Talk with your doctor about the right time to use an åauto-injector during an allergic reaction.
Learn More About Treatment Today
Peanut allergies are becoming more prevalent in the US. If you or your child has a peanut allergy, there are treatment options for them. Avoidance is key in preventing allergic reactions, but some therapies may prevent severe reactions.
If you’d like to learn more about treatment for peanut allergies, contact us today. We want to help you manage your child’s food allergies the best you can.