Ask Your Doctor: PEANUT ALLERGY
The number of individuals with peanut allergy appears to be rapidly increasing in Anguilla and many other countries. For some people, with peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause a serious reaction – and some of the symptoms can be life threatening.
What are peanuts?
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are a member of the legume (bean) family. Other members of this family include soya beans, lentils and garden peas. It is rare for a peanut allergic person to react to soya or other beans and legumes, but many peanut allergic people will also be allergic to other tree nuts, for example brazil or hazel nuts which are genetically unrelated.
What is peanut allergy?
Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Peanuts can cause a severe, potentially fatal, allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Individuals with peanut allergy should have quick access to an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen®, Auvi-Q™ or Adrenaclick®) at all times.
Peanut allergies tend to be lifelong, although studies indicate that approximately 20 percent of children with peanut allergy do eventually outgrow their allergy. Younger siblings of children allergic to peanuts may be at increased risk for allergy to peanuts.
Peanut allergy has been increasing in children. Even if you or your child has had only a mild allergic reaction to peanuts, it is important to talk to your doctor. There is still a risk of a more serious future reaction.
How do you develop peanut allergy?
Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful.
It is not clear why some people develop allergies while others do not.
Direct or indirect contact with peanuts causes your immune system to release symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream.
The most common cause of peanut allergy is eating peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Sometimes direct skin contact with peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction.
Cross-contact is another way you can get peanut allergy. This is the unintended introduction of peanuts into a product. It is generally the result of a food being exposed to peanuts during processing or handling.
An allergic reaction may occur if you inhale dust or aerosols containing peanuts, from a source such as peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray.
What are some symptoms of peanut allergy?
If you are allergic to peanuts and become exposed to peanuts in any form, allergic symptoms can occur within minutes after exposure, some of these include the follow:
• Runny nose
• Skin reactions, such as hives, redness or swelling
• Itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat
• Digestive problems, such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain (stomach cramps), nausea or vomiting
• Tightening of the throat
• Shortness of breath or wheezing
The individuals who are allergic to peanuts can have an anaphylaxis reaction, this can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms can include:
• Constriction of airways
• Swelling of the throat that makes it difficult to breathe
• A severe drop in blood pressure (shock)
• Rapid pulse
• Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
In addition to epinephrine, you should immediately go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.
There is no definitive treatment for peanut allergy, but researchers continue to study desensitization.
New research suggests that desensitizing at-risk children to peanuts between ages 4 and 11 months may be effective at preventing peanut allergy.
As with any food allergy, treatment involves taking steps to avoid the foods that cause your reaction and knowing how to spot and respond to a severe reaction.
The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut products altogether, but this is sometimes difficult to do, seeing how common peanuts are available.
For a severe allergic reaction, you may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and to visit the emergency room. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Twinject). This device is a syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh.
If you are allergic to peanuts you must be extremely careful and know how to avoid foods that might contain peanuts. The following might prove beneficial:
• Never assume a food does not contain peanuts. Peanuts may be in foods that you had no idea contained them. Always read labels on manufactured foods to make sure they do not contain peanuts or peanut products.
Even if you think you know what is in a food, check the label.
• Do not ignore a label that says a food was produced in a factory that processes peanuts. Most people with a peanut allergy need to avoid all products that could contain even trace amounts of peanuts.
• When in doubt, say “no thanks.” At restaurants and social gatherings, you are always taking a risk that you might accidentally eat peanuts. Many people do not understand the seriousness of an allergic food reaction, and may not realize that a tiny amount of a food can cause a severe reaction. If you are at all worried that a food may contain something you are allergic to, do not try it.
• Be prepared for a reaction. Talk with your doctor about carrying emergency medications in case of severe reaction.
Peanut allergy is becoming ever more commonplace, with recent studies showing that the rate of peanut allergy has doubled over a 5-year period in the United States and Europe. The reason for this increase is not fully understood, but is in line with the general increase in all forms of allergy including asthma.
If you have an allergic reaction to peanuts seek immediate medical attention. Reactions to peanuts can be life threatening. Once diagnosed it is important that peanuts, and all sources of peanuts, are excluded from your diet at all times, unless an Allergy Specialist has told you otherwise.
Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.
Dr Brett Hodge MB BS DGO MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty-two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).