What is a PEANUT or NUT ALLERGY?
A person with a peanut allergy has an allergic reaction to peanuts. Peanut allergies cause about three-quarters of the fatal or near-fatal allergic reactions. Peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction when they are eaten, come in contact with the skin or are inhaled in the form of dust or flour.
Peanut allergy symptoms
Allergic reactions to nuts can be quite minor, for example, the presence of a runny nose, skin rash or a tingling tongue. Symptoms may stay the same, but they may also become worse with multiple exposures. In a more severe reaction patients may experience difficulty in breathing, swelling of the throat, dizziness or unconsciousness. This can lead to anaphylactic shock. Other symptoms include hives, tightness of the throat, a hoarse voice, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and lightheadedness.
Management of peanut allergy
Long term management involves complete avoidance of all sources of peanuts. Unlike many other food allergies, it is rare to grow out of peanut allergy and, therefore, dietary exclusion needs to be life long. Although avoiding whole peanuts is straightforward, the difficulty lies in the fact that peanut products can also be ‘hidden’ in a variety of processed foods e.g. in cakes, biscuits, ice cream, confectionary, breakfast cereals and in cooking sauces.
Sensitive individuals must, therefore, read food labels carefully to ensure that they are free from any ingredients of peanut origin. In addition, confusion also lies in the fact that peanut and peanut products may be listed under different names e.g. as monkey nuts, mixed nuts, peanut oil, and ground nut oil.
Approximately 35 to 50% of children with a proven peanut allergy also have allergies to tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, hazel, pine, pistachio, and Brazil nuts) and because of this most children with a peanut allergy also avoid tree nuts. In addition, young children who are allergic to peanuts are encouraged to avoid all nuts. This is due to the risk of them developing sensitivities to other nuts and to the difficulty of accurately identifying various nut products.
Unfortunately, despite family and child efforts to avoid peanuts and tree nuts, accidental ingestions are common. Exposures frequently occur in restaurants, children’s parties and in daycare settings and schools. Exposures can happen accidently, for example, as a result of the accidental ingestion of shared food, or by eating foods not known to contain peanuts or peanut byproducts such as peanut oil. Cross contamination may also occur through contaminated cutlery, utensils, table surfaces, food preparation areas either at school or in the workplace.
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