Peanut Allergy: What You Should Know

Peanuts were once a snack-time staple, but these days, they are largely off-limits for a growing number of kids and adults. It’s common now not to serve certain foods at birthday parties or school to keep kids with peanut allergies safe.

It can seem scary how much damage a little piece of food can do, but you can lower the risk of having a severe reaction if you learn how 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.

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

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

Recent studies found that 25% to 40% of people who have peanut allergy are allergic to tree nuts, too.

Several Ways to Come in Contact

Most people who are allergic have trouble when they have direct contact with peanuts -- whether eating them by accident or not realizing they are part of a salad or recipe.

It can also happen through skin contact or by breathing in peanut dust or eating something made with peanut oil.

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

It’s called cross-contact. For instance, a chef might be making a meal for you. It contains no peanuts, but she may have used her knife for an earlier task. If the knife touched peanuts and wasn’t washed well, trace pieces could get into your dish.

Make sure any restaurant or dinner host is aware and taking care to avoid cross-contact.

What Problems Can Peanuts Cause?

Symptoms of an allergic response to peanuts will usually start within minutes of exposure, and they can include:

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A Severe Reaction: Anaphylaxis

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

Your risk may be higher if you have allergies or asthma, a family history of anaphylaxis or if it’s happened to you before.

Certain people with known peanut allergies should carry an injector. You can get one from your doctor. If the symptoms strike, use your epinephrine (adrenaline) injector, such as Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen, or Symjepi.

Call 911 even if you start to feel better. You will still need emergency medical care because you may have a delayed reaction.

The signs of an attack include:

What’s Involved With an Allergy Test?

To find out whether you have a problem with peanuts, your doctor might ask you to keep a food diary. He can track your eating habits and any symptoms you jot down.

If you’ve never had a severe reaction, he might suggest what’s called an “elimination diet.” You would cut out peanuts or other suspected foods for a week or longer. Then you would add them back in one at a time to see what might be causing you to react.

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

You may also need a blood test to check to see whether your immune system launches an allergic reaction to peanuts.

How to Avoid Peanuts

Foods that contain peanuts have to say so on the label. That’s the law in the United States. Read all food labels every time, because ingredients can change. There might be nuts in something you didn’t think had them. If you aren’t sure, check with the product’s maker.

There is no easy fix for the allergy. The only way to prevent a bad reaction is to avoid peanuts. But no matter how careful you are, you may still come into contact with them because they’re so common. It is important to know how to act fast in a life-threatening case.

Peanut allergies usually are lifelong for most people. But research finds that about 20% of children who have the allergy outgrow it eventually.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 06, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Food Allergy Research & Education: “Peanut Allergy”

Mayo Clinic: “Peanut Allergy”

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: “Anaphylaxis”

Food Allergy Research & Education Blog: “Who is Likely to Outgrow a Food Allergy?”

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