In recent years, there has been a lot about nut allergies in the press. You have likely heard some now ban peanuts and peanut butter on the property to avoid triggering allergic reactions in students. Why are they singling out this one nut? In fact, peanut allergies and tree nut allergies are slightly different; not everyone who is allergic to peanuts is allergic to tree nuts, and vice versa.
Peanuts aren't the same as tree nuts. Peanuts are legumes, which come from the same family as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans. Because peanuts are a whole different species than tree nuts like almonds and cashews, some people are allergic to peanuts and not other, "real" nuts. Others are allergic to both. Because peanuts are so prevalent in the American diet, people with this allergy often have difficulty finding prepared foods uncontaminated by peanuts.
Allergists used to think that once someone had a peanut allergy, he or she had it for life. This has been proven untrue. Around 20 percent of people who had peanut allergies as children grow out of the allergy and can eat peanuts and peanut butter as adults. On the other hand, it appears people who have tree nut allergies have them for life.
In 2017, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) set guidelines determining factors that make an infant at low, moderate, or high risk for developing peanut allergies. Some of these factors are outlined next. In high- and moderate-risk infants, NIAID advises introducing peanut butter under an allergy doctor's guidance, to prevent possible allergies to peanuts in the future.
According to NIAID, infants who have eczema or are allergic to egg whites are at high risk of developing peanut allergies. These infants will need further allergy tests to determine if they are good candidates for introducing peanuts to build up immunity to the allergens.
People allergic to peanuts may experience hives or have itchy skin when they come into contact with the allergen. Some develop a runny nose and have a burning or itching in the mouth and throat. Nausea is another possible symptom of a peanut allergy, and in rare and severe cases, people may experience an anaphylactic reaction.
Anaphylactic reactions are uncommon but are life-threatening when they do occur. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, throat swelling, pale skin and blue lips from lack of oxygen, sudden blood pressure drop, dizziness, and fainting. Anaphylaxis can be fatal unless treated with epinephrine (adrenaline). People who know they have severe allergies to common foods such as peanuts may carry epinephrine in an auto-injector, or an epi-pen.
Tree nut allergies are as common as peanut allergies. The symptoms of tree nut allergy include diarrhea, cramps, abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea. Similar to peanut allergic reactions, the individual may have difficulty swallowing, and itchy skin, especially around the throat, eyes, or mouth. Some people become congested and have shortness of breath. Again, anaphylaxis is a rare but possible side effect of contact with the allergen.
Maybe. Even though tree nuts and peanuts are not related, it is possible to be allergic to both (remember that people with other allergies are more likely to develop a peanut allergy). Somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of people with one allergy also have the other. So, even though peanuts are legumes and tree nuts are from trees, there is quite a bit of overlap.
Yes. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, there has been a 21 percent increase in childhood allergies to peanuts since 2010. Currently, about 2.5 percent of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts. The good news is that with the help of an allergist, parents may be able to eliminate the allergy before it begins affecting the child.
If you or someone close to you has an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts, read the labels very carefully at grocery stores to ensure you do not buy foods that have nuts or were processed in a facility that also processes nuts. Ask at restaurants whether nuts, including peanut or tree nut oils, were used in the preparation of the food you're eating. Of course, people with nut allergies cannot eat raw nuts and, depending on the severity of the diagnosis, may have to carry an epi-pen.
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