what is a peanut allergy
A peanut allergy is an immune response to proteins in the peanut when it is digested, handled or when particles are inhaled. It is common in young children and is less likely to be outgrown. Symptoms usually occur within minutes and can be mild or life threatening.
There are people who suffer from peanut allergies and others who have a peanut intolerance. An intolerance does not involve the immune system and the symptoms are less severe. A small amount of peanuts may even be consumed when someone has an intolerancehowever, see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
A peanut allergy is not the same as a tree-nut allergy. Peanuts grow from the ground and therefore are in a different nut family than tree nuts. A person can be allergic to either peanuts or tree nuts and sometimes to both.
A peanut allergy occurs when the immune system treats a protein in peanuts as a threat to the body. The immune system releases antibodies to fight the “threatening” substance, which is the protein in the peanut. Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, is an antibody that is produced by the body to attack the food protein (the antigen). Once the antibodies have contact with the antigen it signals an attack on the protein by releasing histamine and other chemicals. These chemicals cause the allergic symptoms.
There are a few ways that a person with a peanut allergy may experience a reaction: ingestion, cross-contamination (when peanuts are accidentally included in food during food processingtherefore, food labels often state “may contain nuts” in the ingredient portion), and when particles like peanut dust, peanut flour or cooking sprays containing peanuts are inhaled.
- Wheezing, difficulty breathing
- Runny nose, congestion
- Swelling of the lips, eyes, face, tongue and/or throat
- Mouth tingles or is itchy
- Skin rash (note: eczema is a common skin condition often associated with food allergies, see your doctor for proper diagnosis)
- Loose stools
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
- Anaphylaxis (can occur in some severe cases) Anaphylaxis is when the throat swells making breathing difficult because the airways constrict. Other symptoms may include a rapid pulse, dizziness, shock, and lightheadedness. This is life threatening and needs to be treated immediately by a clinician.
how to test and diagnose
If you think you have a peanut allergy track your diet and symptoms. Keep a diary of the foods you are eating and what signs and symptoms youare experiencing after eating those foods.
Remove peanuts from your diet for at least 2-3 weeks. After 2-3 weeks you can gradually add them back in and see how your body reacts. To be extra careful, take out foods that state, “may contain nuts” on the food label. You can use www.foodfacts.com as a guide for ingredients to avoid or for substitutions. If your symptoms are relieved during the time the food is eliminated, you may be allergic to that food. See your doctor for proper diagnosis.
Skin Test: See your doctor or an allergist and get a tested. Your doctor can perform a skin test. A tiny amount of foodthat can possibly cause an allergy is applied to your skin, and then your skin is pricked to allow that amount of the food to get below the skins surface to see if you have a reaction. If you are allergic a rash may develop or another type of reaction can occur on the area that the food was applied.
Blood Test: A blood test, also called a RAST (radioallergosorbent test) can determine the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in your blood. Your blood is sent to a lab where they test foods with your blood to see if a particular food causes you to have high amounts of IgE. If you have high amounts of IgE then you are allergic to that food.
how to manage
Avoidance is the only way to prevent symptoms from a food allergy. Be careful to read food labels to avoid your allergen and educate yourself on the names of the ingredients that may indicate your allergen is present. There are many substitutions that you can use for the foods you need to avoid.
Wear a Medical Alert bracelet to alert others to be aware of your allergy in case there is an emergency.
Be sure to tell family, friends, co-workers, teachers etc. of your allergy if there should be an emergency.
Carry an epinephrine autoinjector as directed by your doctor. If you have a severe allergy, and in the event that anaphylaxis occurs, this is advisable. This requires a prescription from your doctor. Your doctor may also prescribe other antihistamines. Antihistamines may be used; however, it is not as effective.
ingredients to avoid
- Ground or mixed nuts
- Cold pressed, expressed, expelled peanut oil
- Artificial nuts (peanuts de-flavored then re-flavored with other nuts)
- Peanut butter
- Peanut flour
- Hydrolyzed plant protein (may contain peanuts if imported)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (may contain peanuts if imported)
- Cookies, pastries
- Ice cream, frozen desserts (may contain peanuts)
- Energy bars
- Cereals and granola
- Grain breads
- Marzipan (a molding confection made of nuts, egg whites and sugar)
- Nougat (may contain peanuts)
- Salad dressings
- Chocolate candies, nut butters
- Sunflower seeds (can be cross-contaminated in food processing with equipment also used to process peanuts)
- African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes
- Foods sold in bakeries and ice-cream shops may come in contact with peanuts
- Arachis oil (another name for peanut oil)
- Homemade Spaghetti sauce or Chili (peanut flour and/or peanut butter can sometimes be used as a thickener)
- Sunflower butter (check ingredients label to be sure it is not processed with nuts)
- Pumpkin seed butter
- Soy butter
- Vegetable purees
- Bean dips
- Cream cheese
http://www.webmd.com/allergies/tc/peanut-allergy-overview (WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise)
Food Allergies and Food Intolerance, The Complete Guide To Their Identification and Treatment, Jonathan Brostoff, M.D. and Linda Gamlin
Content written February 2009, JeanMarie Ceravolo, CHC