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Allergies Health Center

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Topic Overview

    What is a peanut allergy?

    A peanut allergy is a reaction that occurs when your body mistakenly identifies peanuts as harmful substances. When you eat peanuts or food containing peanuts, your immune system—the body's natural defense system that fights infections and diseases—overreacts and can cause a serious, even life-threatening response.

    What causes a peanut allergy?

    An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts and releases chemicals, including histamine, into your blood. These chemicals can affect different tissues in the body, such as the skin, eyes, nose, airways, intestinal tract, lungs, and blood vessels. It's not clear why peanuts trigger this response in some people.

    What are the symptoms?

    Symptoms of peanut allergy can range from mild to severe. If you have a mild reaction, you may get a stomachache, a runny nose, itchy eyes, hives, or tingling in your lips or tongue. If your reaction is worse, you may develop additional symptoms such as a tight throat, hoarse voice, wheezing, coughing, and/or feeling sick to your stomach. Your symptoms may start from within a few minutes to a few hours after eating peanuts or peanut products.

    People who are allergic to peanuts may have a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include problems breathing and swallowing; vomiting and diarrhea; dizziness; dangerously low blood pressure; swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, and other parts of the body; and loss of consciousness. If not treated, death can result. Anaphylaxis usually occurs within minutes but can occur up to several hours after eating peanuts or peanut products.

    How is a peanut allergy diagnosed?

    To diagnose a peanut allergy, your doctor will start with a medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about any family food allergies, especially siblings with peanut allergies. He or she will ask detailed questions about your symptoms, how soon your symptoms began after you ate the food, and if any over-the-counter allergy medicines like an antihistamine were helpful. Your doctor will ask if other people also got sick, how the food was prepared, and what other foods were eaten.

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