Allergies range from simple hives to more serious reactions. A person can have an allergy to various foods, ingredients, and climate changes. One of the most common allergies to food is a peanut allergy.
Peanut allergy develops when the body’s immune system works differently. It has a hypersensitivity response to one or more of the proteins found in peanuts. Peanuts are one of the most common causes of serious allergic reactions, especially in kids. Children are more likely than adults to experience major allergic reactions to peanuts.
In the United States, an estimated 0.6 percent of children have a peanut allergy. About 20 percent of the children will outgrow the reaction, but others have it for the rest of their lives. Kids with a peanut allergy should avoid peanut in all forms, including peanut products.
This type of food allergy is usually lifelong and cause severe reactions; some may even lead to death or near-death situations. Since peanut allergy has become an important public-health issue, health practitioners should inform children and their parents on the proper ways to prevent this serious food allergy.
2Signs And Symptoms
When a person with an allergy ingests peanuts or any food product with peanuts as its ingredient, his immune system overreacts to the proteins in these foods. Every time a person eats or in some cases handles a peanut or tree nut, the immune system thinks that these proteins will harm the body.
As a result, the immune system becomes activated to fend off the foreign invader. Chemicals like histamine are released, creating a hypersensitivity reaction. The common signs and symptoms of a peanut allergy include:
Mild Signs And Symptoms
- Itchy skin
- Rash or hives, which can appear as small spots or large welts
- Tingling sensations around the mouth or throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Congested nose
- Swollen lips or tongue
- Swollen face
- Stomach cramps
Severe Signs And Symptoms
- Swollen throat
- Trouble breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Fast heart rate
- Racing pulse
- Loss of consciousness
More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions. There are eight major allergens like eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, milk, soy, fish and the crustacean shellfish. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children suffering from food allergy increased by 50 percent from 1997 to 2011. Moreover, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy tripled between 1997 and 2008.
Exposure To Peanut Proteins
The science behind what causes peanut allergy is not clear. Both genetic and environmental factors appear to be involved. However, studies have shown that exposure to at least seven peanut proteins leads to the production of protein-specific IgE which binds to high-affinity IgE receptors on basophils or mast cells.
The reaction results to the degranulation of inflammatory mediators such as histamines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes. The body also produces chemokines and cytokines, which influence other inflammatory cells and contribute to the IgE-mediated late-phase allergic reaction. These chemical processes and reactions lead to the clinical manifestations of an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.
It is still not clear why some people develop allergies while others don’t. But, people with certain risk factors have a higher risk of developing a peanut allergy.
Young children and teens are more susceptible to peanut allergy. Infants and toddlers have a higher risk of developing this type of food allergy. Some people may outgrow the condition while others live with it for the rest of their lives.
Past Allergy To Peanuts
While some children with peanut allergy outgrow it, the risk is still there. Hence, there will come a time that the allergy may recur when the person ingested or handled peanuts and some products containing it.
Some allergic reactions run in families. You’re at an increased risk of peanut allergy if other members of the family have it.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
People who suffer from a skin condition called eczema or atopic dermatitis may be at a heightened risk of developing a peanut allergy.
The most common complication of peanut allergy is anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. This condition requires immediate medical treatment.
If it’s not treated abruptly, anaphylaxis can be fatal. A condition called anaphylactic shock happens. In this condition, the blood pressure suddenly drops, the heart beat races and the airways narrow, blocking normal breathing.
These may result in serious complications and even death.
Suspected food allergies should always be evaluated and diagnosed by a medical professional. An allergist is someone who had intensive training in dealing with food allergies. Never self-diagnose food allergy because this may lead to food restriction and inadequate nutrition, especially in kids.
There are legit ways to diagnose a food allergy, like a peanut allergy. However, the allergist needs to conduct a comprehensive medical history and ask questions to determine which food group is causing the reaction.
Skin Prick Test
To diagnose a food allergy, the doctor will use a skin prick test (SPT) to measure the presence of IgE antibodies for the culprit food, in this case, peanuts. Aside from giving immediate results, it’s affordable and can be done in your doctor’s clinic.
Like skin prick tests, the blood test also measures for the presence of IgE antibodies to a specific food. Though skin prick tests give immediate results, a blood test may take at least several days.
In blood tests, however, the results are not affected by the use of antihistamines, and it can be done even during an acute attack.
Trial Elimination Diet
In this test, the doctor will ask you to remove specific foods from the diet temporarily. This test is effective in determining which specific food you’re allergic to. This challenge may last for two to four weeks.
Oral Food Challenge
If all the other tests were not able to detect the food culprit that causes your allergy, you need to undergo an oral food challenge. In this test, the doctor or allergist will feed you the suspect food in measured doses and observe if you’ll develop an allergic reaction. Antihistamines may be given to relieve the allergic reaction symptoms that will appear during the test.
Your doctor will ask you to make your food diary. In this diary, you need to list all the foods you consumed, eating habits, symptoms, and medications.
There is no definitive treatment for peanut allergy. Some health experts are conducting studies on desensitization, wherein the allergist will give food containing peanuts to children with a peanut allergy in increasing doses, in increasing doses. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved this method.
At present, here are the most common treatments for peanut allergy.
Antihistamines work by reducing or blocking histamines, so they stop the symptoms of allergy.
Oral Or Topical Steroids
Medically known as corticosteroids, steroids can help reduce inflammation linked to allergies. Steroids reduce the inflammatory symptoms such as sneezing, nasal stuffiness, wheezing and runny nose. If the allergic reaction occurs on the skin, the doctor will prescribe topical steroids.
For severe and life-threatening reaction like anaphylaxis, the doctor will prescribe epinephrine. It’s the only drug that can reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis. It is available in an auto-injector. An anaphylactic reaction is potentially fatal, so if in case someone in the family has an allergy, emergency medicines should be available.
To temporarily relieve breathing problems caused by an allergic reaction, you can use short-acting bronchodilators such as albuterol.
Many doctors believe that prevention is better than cure. That applies to peanut allergy. If you have this condition, you should avoid eating or handling peanuts and other food products containing peanuts. Carefully read food labels every time you buy food.
The management of peanut allergy is simple and easy. However, precaution is strictly recommended in preventing and preparing for potential attacks.
- Always wear your emergency bracelet indicating you have a peanut allergy.
- Do not eat or hold any food that has peanuts in it.
- Read nutritional labels of the food you eat and its ingredients to make sure there are no peanuts in it.
- Always carry your medicines like antihistamines and an epinephrine auto-injector at all times.
- Take your medicine at the first sign of an allergic reaction. Never wait for it to worsen before getting medical help.
- Visit the emergency room for further evaluation even after taking your medicine or epinephrine auto-injector.
Peanut allergy is preventable and treatable. You should always be prepared for any allergic reactions, especially if you’ve experienced one in the past. Anaphylaxis, the complication of a peanut allergy, is potentially life threatening. Hence, precaution is recommended at all times.
For food manufacturers and vendors, it is important to label your food products if there are peanuts in them. This will reduce the risk of people with peanut allergy to consuming the food product and suffering from a bout of allergy.