Symptoms of an allergic reaction

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Peanuts were once a staple for snacks, but nowadays they are largely off limits for a growing number of children and adults. It is now common practice not to serve certain foods at birthday parties or at school to protect children with peanut allergies.

It might sound scary how much damage a small piece of food can cause, but you can reduce the risk of a serious reaction if you learn to spot your symptoms and avoid peanuts.

Who is at risk and why?

Children, especially toddlers and infants, are more likely to develop food allergies.

If you or other family members have other types of allergies, peanuts could be a problem.

Additionally, if you have eczema, you may also be more likely to be allergic.

If you’re allergic to peanuts, that doesn’t mean you’re more likely to have a problem with other nuts or legumes. Peanuts grow underground and are different from almonds, cashews, walnuts and other nuts.

But recent studies have found that 25 to 40 percent of people with peanut allergies are also allergic to tree nuts.

Several ways to get in touch

Most people with allergies have problems when they come in direct contact with peanuts, accidentally eat them, or don’t realize they are part of a salad or recipe.

It can also happen through skin contact or inhaling peanut dust or eating something made with gourmet or unrefined peanut oil.

But did you know that if you are very sensitive, indirect contact can trigger a reaction?

This is called cross contact. For example, a chef can prepare a meal for you. It doesn’t contain peanuts, but they may have used their knife for an earlier task. If the knife has touched peanuts and has not been washed well, traces could get into your dish.

Make sure any restaurant or dinner host is aware of it and is careful to avoid cross-contact.

What problems can peanuts cause?

Symptoms of a peanut allergic reaction usually begin a few minutes after exposure and can include:

  • Tightening in the throat
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Skin reaction such as hives or redness
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth or throat
  • Diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps or vomiting
  • A runny nose

A serious reaction: anaphylaxis

This is a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires emergency treatment. Peanuts are one of the most common causes of anaphylaxis, which can affect several parts of the body at once.

Your risk may be higher if you have allergies or asthma, have a family history of anaphylaxis, or have had it in the past. The FDA recently approved the drug Palforzia for children ages 4 to 17 with peanut allergies to help minimize any reactions. Although they should always avoid contact with peanuts, this helps reduce the risk of them being life threatening.

Some people with known peanut allergies should wear an injector. You can get one from your doctor. If symptoms occur, use your epinephrine (adrenaline) injector, such as Auvi-Q, EpiPen, Symjepi, or a generic version of the autoinjector.

Call 911 even if you are starting to feel better. You will still need emergency medical attention as you may have a delayed reaction.

Signs of an attack can include:

  • Swelling in the throat that makes it difficult to breathe
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • A big drop in blood pressure
  • A rapid pulse
  • Blocked airways

What does an allergy test involve?

If you think you are allergic to peanuts, see an allergist. Start a food diary before the date and keep track of all reactions.

If you’ve never had a serious reaction, they might suggest something called an “elimination diet”. You would cut out peanuts or other suspicious foods for a week or more. Then you would add them one by one to see what might make you react.

Your doctor may also do a skin test, placing a small amount of food on you and then pricking it with a needle. If you are allergic to peanuts, you will develop a lump or raised reaction.

You may also need a blood test to check if your immune system is having an allergic reaction to peanuts.

How to avoid peanuts

Foods that contain peanuts must say so on the label. It is the law in the United States. Read all food labels each time, as ingredients can change. There might be nuts in something that you didn’t think you had. If you are not sure, check with the product manufacturer.

There is no easy fix for allergy. The only way to avoid a bad reaction is to avoid peanuts. But no matter how careful you are, you can still get in touch with them because they are so common. It is important to know how to act quickly in a life-threatening case.

Peanut allergies typically last a lifetime for most people. But research shows that about 20% of children with allergies eventually pass it. For children at risk for peanut allergies (such as those with a family history, other food allergies, or eczema), recommendations to do allergy testing and introduce peanut products vary according to the child’s risk.


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