Why are Peanut Allergies so Severe?

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Peanut allergies are among the most common and the most severe of food allergies. For people who have a serious peanut allergy or peanut butter allergy, ingesting even a very small amount of peanut can trigger a reaction.

What Are Peanut Allergies?

In addition to being severe, it also seems that peanut allergies are becoming more common. Some experts believe that increased caution about peanut exposure may be a cause. Previously, mothers were encouraged to avoid peanut intake during pregnancy and not allow children to consume peanut products until after three years of age. More recent research seems to contradict that advice, indicating that earlier exposure helps children better tolerate peanuts. You should talk with your doctor to get their input on this subject.

What are the Symptoms of Peanut Allergies?

Peanut allergy symptoms vary from person to person. This includes both the signs of peanut allergy that they display and the severity of those signs. Peanut allergy symptoms can include:

  • Hoarseness, wheezing, tightness in the throat or trouble breathing – A peanut allergy reaction can cause constriction of the throat and airways.
  • Sneezing or coughing – Unexplained sneezing or coughing may be a sign of peanut exposure in those who are allergic.
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth – This unusual sensation can be a sign of peanut allergy reaction.
  • Hives – Hives are red bumps on the skin that may itch, burn or sting.
  • Swelling around the eyes – People with a peanut allergy may experience puffiness around the eyes if exposed to peanuts.
  • Itchy or watery eyes – Unexplained watering of the eyes and an itchy sensation are symptoms of peanut allergy.
  • Dizziness or fainting – Some people who are allergic to peanuts experience lightheadedness when exposed to them.
  • Low blood pressure – The drop in blood pressure that can occur in a peanut allergy reaction is one of the most serious symptoms.
  • Stomachache – Stomach pain or cramping can be a sign of a peanut allergy reaction.
  • Diarrhea – Loose stools are a common symptom of peanut allergy.
  • Vomiting – Peanut allergy can quickly result in vomiting.
  • Anxiety about worsening symptoms – Many people find the fear of a reaction to be one of the worst effects of peanut allergy.

If a serious reaction known as anaphylaxis occurs, it can be life-threatening due to swelling of the throat, constriction of the airways and a rapid drop in blood pressure as the body goes into shock.

What are the Triggers and Causes of Peanut Allergies?

What causes peanut allergy? It is actually a case of mistaken identity. The immune system wrongly believes that the protein in peanuts is a harmful invader and goes into overdrive to fight it. In the process, the immune response can actually harm the body. Most people learn from a minor reaction at a young age that they are allergic to peanuts. If you think your child may be allergic to peanuts, you should talk with your pediatrician.

Peanuts and peanut proteins can be found in a wide range of foods including:

  • Cookies
  • Ice cream
  • Asian and African cuisine
  • Candy
  • Snack foods
  • Sauces (often as a thickening agent)

What Treatments are Available for Peanut Allergies?

There currently is no peanut allergy cure. People who have them must be very careful to avoid coming into contact with them. This can be challenging, since peanuts are widely used in cooking and food preparation, including ways you might not expect, such as for thickening soups and sauces.

Producers of food sold in the U.S. are required to note on the packaging whether the food contains peanuts or tree nuts. However, it is difficult to know if freshly prepared food, such as at a restaurant, contains peanuts. Even cross-contamination from a food preparation surface or utensil can pose a hazard to someone with a severe peanut allergy.

People with peanut allergies are typically advised to be prepared to provide their own peanut allergy treatment using a medication called epinephrine. Commonly administered with a device known as an EpiPen®, the drug is injected into the bloodstream and should be used immediately if a person starts having trouble breathing or if they experience allergic reaction symptoms in two separate areas of the body, such as hives and vomiting. Used promptly, epinephrine can stop a serious allergic reaction. However, the person should still seek immediate medical attention. You should talk with a Baptist Health allergist if you feel you have a peanut allergy.

What Makes Peanut Allergies So Severe?

Scientists don’t know exactly why peanut allergies are so severe or why peanut butter allergy reaction time is so fast. One contributing factor may be that peanut proteins, which are what cause a peanut allergy reaction, aren’t readily destroyed in the gut. This means they make it into the bloodstream where they can trigger a reaction. And, as noted above, peanuts are an ingredient in many kinds of food, and therefore are present in many food preparation environments, so it is hard for people who are allergic to peanuts to avoid exposure.

How common is peanut allergy? According to peanut allergy statistics presented at an American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, approximately 2.5 percent of U.S. children may have peanut allergy.

In order to avoid a peanut allergy reaction, you should:

  • Carefully read the ingredients on all packaged foods
  • Talk with your restaurant server about your peanut allergy and only consume food if you can be assured it doesn’t contain peanuts and hasn’t come into contact with any peanut protein
  • Eat before attending parties where the ingredients in shared dishes are unknown

If you think you or your child might be allergic to peanuts, or if you have other questions or concerns about allergies, schedule an appointment to talk with a Baptist Health Allergist.