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Peanut allergies: what you need to know

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Photo Credit: Flickr/Nutsinbulk

Peanut allergies: what you need to know

By Jessica Klimczak on January 24, 2014

In the last few decades the peanut, a once-popular airplane snack, has become somewhat better known as a potentially fatal food. To some, the stories of small children dying from a bite of a peanut butter cookie sound paranoid or extreme, but to those with a severe peanut allergy or who parent a child with a severe peanut allergy, the threat is all too real.

Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies and can induce either mild or fatal reactions. Allergic reactions can vary from an itchy throat and skin to the most severe, anaphylaxis – a reaction that can cause the throat and airways to constrict and loss of consciousness. Those with a severe reaction may need to always carry an epinephrine injector with them.

Peanuts can be found in many unexpected foods such as sauces, e.g. enchilada or mole sauce; candies such as nougat and marzipan; and many packaged foods. If you know the peanut allergy is severe, you’ll have to get in the habit of checking the ingredients listed on the back of packaged food and asking restaurants and bakeries if they use peanuts in their kitchens.

One of the more surprising and frustrating aspects of the allergy is that people can have allergic reactions even if they haven’t ingested or touched peanuts directly. This is why many preschools and grade schools have decided in recent years to ban peanuts (and in some cases all nuts) from schools. A. Schuyler, a nurse practitioner, offered the following explanation to a customer on JustAnswer:

“Minute particles of peanuts (which contain the protein allergen) can become airborne as dust. A person eating a peanut butter sandwich can cough or sneeze releasing peanut particles into the air that could possibly affect someone nearby with a severe peanut allergy. That same person could get peanut butter on his hands, touch a surface and leave peanut remnants that could affect an allergic individual.”

People can develop the allergy at any point in their lives, although it’s more common to develop a peanut allergy as a child. Unfortunately the allergy tends to stick with people for their lifetimes, although according to studies about one-fifth of children are able to overcome the allergy. Because food allergies have become increasingly common, researchers are working to find ways to help people overcome the allergy. One such research team at Stanford University has had some success recently with their clinical trials.

If you suspect that you or someone you love might be allergic to peanuts, it’s important to contact your doctor and have allergy tests done. Visit the Mayo Clinic website for more information about the causes and symptoms of peanut allergies.