Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy in children under age 18 and the second-most common food allergy in adults. Peanut allergy is usually lifelong: only about 20 percent of children with the allergy outgrow it over time.
When a person with a peanut allergy is exposed to peanut, proteins in the peanut bind to specific IgE antibodies made by the person’s immune system. Subsequent exposure to peanut protein, typically by oral ingestion, triggers the person’s immune defenses, leading to reaction symptoms that can be mild or very severe.
How is peanut allergy diagnosed?
Often, the first sign of a peanut allergy is symptoms occurring soon after eating a peanut or foods containing peanuts. You can have your child tested for the presence of IgE antibodies to peanut with a blood or allergy skin prick test. Not every child with a positive allergy test will develop symptoms of an allergic reaction after being exposed to peanuts. In rare cases children with a peanut allergy may not have a positive test. Discuss your child’s test results with your doctor.
What are the symptoms of peanut allergy?
Reactions can range from mild to severe. Mild to moderate reactions may include any one of the following:
- hives or welts, swelling of the lips/face/eyes,
- tingling of the mouth,
- abdominal pain or vomiting
Severe reactions (anaphylaxis) may include any one of the following:
- difficulty/noisy breathing,
- swelling of the tongue,
- swelling or tightness in the throat,
- difficulty talking and or hoarse voice,
- wheeze or persistent cough,
- persistent dizziness or collapse, pale and floppy (in young children)
Sometimes symptoms of a severe reaction happen without symptoms of a milder reaction first. Very rarely has death occurred from a severe allergic reaction.
Can my child grow out of peanut allergy?
Around 1 in 5 children with the allergy will eventually outgrow it and it is important to have regular reviews with an allergy specialist to check whether the peanut allergy has been outgrown.
What about other nuts?
Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans and more), which grow on trees. (Though approximately 40% of children with tree nut allergies have an allergy to peanut.) Peanuts grow underground and are part of a different plant family, the legumes. Other examples of legumes include beans, peas, lentils and soybeans. Being allergic to peanuts does not mean you have a greater chance of being allergic to another legume. However, allergy to lupine, another legume commonly used in vegan cooking, can occur in patients with an allergy.
What Does “Peanut-Free” Mean?
When a food is “peanut-free” it does not contain peanuts, peanut butter, peanut oil or any form or derivative of peanut at all! It must not contain peanut stearate or “traces of peanut.” Even if the ingredient label says “May contain traces of nuts or peanuts,” treat this label as if it says “Contains nuts or peanuts.” In order to not eat foods or use products that contain peanuts, it’s important to read product labels.
Read carefully: Foods that may contain peanuts include: cookies, chocolate bars, chili, egg rolls, Thai dishes, satay sauces, prepares soup (especially dried packaged soup mixes), prepared and frozen desserts, hydrogenated oil, candy, baked goods, Chinese food, potato chips, fried foods, salad dressings, macaroons, icing paste, almond paste, vegetable burgers, vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, lard, margarine, canned sardines.
To safely clean hands after possible peanut exposure, mechanical washing with soap and water is needed. Hand sanitizer makes germ free hands but not peanut free hands.
Some new therapies for peanut allergy treatment are in the research stages. Even with the reported strides that have been made in treating peanut allergy, none of these should be attempted at home unless part of an approved research protocol.