What Is a Peanut Allergy?
- Peanuts, which are actually legumes and not nuts, can cause allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing and other serious health problems in people who are allergic.
- When people have a peanut allergy, the immune system overreacts to proteins, which results in the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- Nearly 2.5% of children in the U.S. are thought to have a peanut allergy.
- If you or your doctor suspects your child has a peanut allergy, you may be referred to an allergist, which is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of allergies.
How Do You Get Diagnosed with an Allergy to Peanuts?
Tests used to diagnose allergies such as peanut allergies include:
- Skin test
- A small scratch is made on the skin and a small amount of liquid extract of the nut is applied
- If there is a reaction, such as a raised spot (wheal or hive), skin redness, or itching, it usually means there is an allergy
- Blood tests
- Antibody test: The blood is drawn and sent to a lab where it is mixed with the allergen and checked for IgE antibodies, a type of protein the body produces when it has an allergic reaction
- Component testing: Looks for IgE to several different proteins found in peanuts, to can give the doctor additional information about the allergy and the best way to manage it
- Food challenge
- Involves gradually eating a serving of peanuts and seeing whether it causes symptoms
- Usually done only when other tests are not clear or to check if an allergy has gone away
- For safety reasons, this test must be done ONLY in a doctor's office or hospital
Do not attempt to test if your child has a peanut allergy at home, as a severe life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) could occur. The doctor’s office has medications to treat severe allergic reactions.
What Are Peanut Allergy Symptoms?
Symptoms of a peanut allergy usually occur within minutes to hours after eating peanut and may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Throat tightness
- Upset stomach
- Itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
- Puffiness of the face, eyelids, ears, mouth, hands, or feet
- Anxiety or a feeling something bad is happening
- A severe, sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction
- Drop in blood pressure
- Airways narrow making it harder to breathe
- Tongue swelling
- Death (very rare)
Uncommonly, peanut allergies may also trigger other symptoms hours to days after eating peanut such as:
What Is the Treatment for Peanut Allergy?
The best treatment for peanut allergy is to avoid peanuts, and also any foods that may contain peanuts.
- Read food labels carefully
- Some foods may not contain peanuts but are produced in factories that make other items that contain nuts
- Equipment may be used for both types of foods and cross-contamination may occur
- Some countries (including the U.S.) have laws that require companies to clearly list whether a food has peanuts in it
- Check food labels for phrases such as:
- “May contain peanuts/tree nuts"
- "Produced on shared equipment with tree nuts or peanuts”
- Check food labels for phrases such as:
- When dining out, inform servers of the allergy
- Be careful of high-risk foods for people with peanut or tree nut allergy such as:
- Cookies and other baked goods
- Ice cream
- Asian, African, and Mexican foods (which may incorporate peanuts)
- Sauces (nuts may be used to thicken dishes)
- Make sure children know what foods they can and cannot eat
- Have an emergency plan
- Antihistamines may be used for mild reactions, but are not to be used as a substitute for epinephrine if a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) occurs
- People with a diagnosed peanut allergy should have a shot of epinephrine with them at all times
- Epinephrine injection comes in an easy-to-carry dispenser
- Parents should notify a child’s teachers, the school nurse, coaches, parents of the child’s friends, and anyone else who may care for the child to know what a reaction looks like and how to respond
- These people should also know how to reach the parents and the child’s doctor in case of emergency
- After epinephrine is administered, the child should be taken to the hospital or another medical facility to be monitored for at least 4 hours to make sure the reaction is under control and does not come back