Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Allergies Health Center

Font Size

Peanut Allergy - 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 life-threatening. If you have a mild reaction, you may get a stomachache, a runny nose, an itchy skin rash, 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, feeling sick to your stomach, vomiting, belly pain, and diarrhea. 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.

It's important to find out whether you have a food allergy or food intolerance. Your doctor may ask you to keep a record of all the foods you eat and any reactions to the foods. Your doctor will also consider if your reaction could have been caused by things like allergies to medicines or insect stings, food poisoning, irritants in foods, and exposure to skin irritants.

Your doctor may ask you to try an elimination diet, an oral food allergy challenge, or both.

  • In an elimination diet, you avoid eating foods that may be causing an allergic reaction and see if your symptoms go away. If symptoms come back when you eat the food again, your doctor can confirm your food allergy. The elimination diet can last from 2 to 8 weeks.
  • In an oral food allergy challenge, you eat a variety of foods that may or may not cause an allergic reaction. Your doctor watches to see if and when a reaction occurs. This test is considered the best way to diagnose a food allergy.

You may also have allergy tests, such as skin tests or blood tests, to determine what foods you are allergic to after you have been diagnosed with having a food allergy.

1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

man blowing nose
Make these tweaks to your diet, home, and lifestyle.
Allergy capsule
Breathe easier with these products.
 
cat on couch
Live in harmony with your cat or dog.
Woman sneezing with tissue in meadow
Which ones affect you?
 

woman sneezing
Slideshow
Bottle of allergy capsules and daisies
Article
 
Urban blossoms
Slideshow
Woman blowing nose
Slideshow
 

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Woman with itchy watery eyes
Slideshow
Allergy prick test
VIDEO
 
Man sneezing into tissue
Tools
woman with duster crinkling nose
Quiz