According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, peanut allergy ranks among the most common food allergies, especially in children, as about 2% of school-age children are allergic to peanuts.
Although peanut allergies are among the most serious, often resulting in anaphylaxis, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing an allergy.
Learn what causes peanut allergy and how you can help prevent it from developing below.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergy is a reaction by your immune system to something that doesn’t bother most people. The immune system is a complex system that helps protect the body from infection and disease.
When you have an allergy, your immune system overreacts to a harmless substance, such as dust, pollen, or peanuts. This reaction can cause symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness, watery eyes, and runny nose. In some people, allergies can also cause severe reactions, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, and hives.
What Causes Peanut Allergy
Peanut allergy is caused by the body’s immune system reacting to a protein found in peanuts.
When this protein enters the body, the immune system mistakenly thinks it is harmful and produces an antibody to protect against it.
The next time the person eats peanuts, these antibodies release chemicals, such as histamine, which can cause an allergic reaction.
Symptoms Of Peanut Allergy
- Skin reactions: hives, redness, or swelling
- Tightening of the throat
- Itching in or around the mouth and throat
- Digestive problems: diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Anaphylaxis (in severe cases)
What Is Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can occur after exposure to an allergen, such as food, certain medication, insect stings, or latex. In people who are susceptible to anaphylaxis, even small amounts of the allergen can trigger a reaction.
Anaphylaxis typically begins minutes after exposure to the allergen and can progress rapidly. A reason why it’s important to seek medical help immediately.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary from mild to severe
They may include
- Swelling of the throat or tongue
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Loss of conscious
- A drop in blood pressure (may often lead to shock)
Anaphylaxis can be fatal if it is not treated promptly. If you think you or someone else is having an anaphylactic reaction, it is essential to seek medical help immediately. Call 911 or your local emergency number.
When To See A Doctor
If you have a peanut allergy, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. As seen above, peanut allergies can be very serious and even life-threatening.
If you have any symptoms of a peanut allergy, such as swelling of the face, lips, or tongue, difficulty breathing, or hives, you should seek medical attention immediately.
How Is Peanut Allergy Treated?
There are several ways to treat peanut allergy, and the most effective approach depends on the severity of the allergy.
For mild allergies, avoiding peanuts and eating a balanced diet is usually enough to prevent any further reactions.
However, avoidance and diet changes may not be enough for more severe allergies. In these cases, medication may be necessary.
Antihistamines can help to reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) is used in cases of severe reactions.
Epinephrine is usually given as an injection, and it can be lifesaving in cases of anaphylaxis (a potentially fatal allergic reaction).
Immunotherapy is another option for treating peanut allergy. This approach involves exposing the body to small amounts of peanut protein to build a tolerance over time.
Immunotherapy can be effective, but working with a qualified allergist is important to ensure it’s done safely.
No matter what approach is taken, it is important to have a plan in place in case of accidental exposure to peanuts. Those with severe allergies should carry epinephrine.
One of the most important things you can do if you have a peanut allergy is to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times. This device injects a dose of epinephrine (a hormone that helps to widen the airways and increase blood pressure) into your body in the event of an allergic reaction. Epinephrine is the first line of defense against a severe allergic reaction and can literally be a lifesaver.
In addition to carrying an epinephrine auto-injector, you should also avoid exposure to peanuts and peanut products as much as possible. This can be difficult, as peanuts are found in many common foods, but it’s important to read labels carefully and avoid any foods containing peanuts or traces of peanuts.
Risk Factors For Peanut Allergy
1. Positive Family History
If you have a positive family history of peanut allergy, you are at an increased risk of developing the condition yourself. This is because allergies tend to run in families. If your parents or siblings have a peanut allergy, you are more likely to have one as well.
So it’s important to be aware of your family history when it comes to this potentially serious condition. If you have any concerns, be sure to speak with your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk. They may recommend that you see an allergist for further testing and advice.
2. Having Different Types Of Allergies
It is believed that having a different type of allergy may be a risk factor for developing a peanut allergy. This is because the immune system may be more likely to overreact to peanuts if it is already sensitized to another allergen.
This is especially true for allergies to common airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust, and pet dander.
Recent research has shown that reaction to other allergens is also a risk factor for developing an allergy to peanuts. In a study of over 1,000 children with peanut allergies, it was found that nearly half of them also had allergies to one or more other substances.
The most common allergens among peanut-allergic children were milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
3. Medical Conditions Like Eczema And Asthma
There are a few reasons why medical conditions like eczema and asthma may put someone at risk of developing a peanut allergy. For one, these conditions can cause inflammation in the body, which can make the immune system more sensitive and reactive.
Also, these conditions may cause changes in the skin that make it more permeable to allergens. This could allow peanuts to enter the body and trigger an allergic reaction.
Another possibility is that people with eczema or asthma may be more sensitive to allergens in general, making them more likely to react to peanuts.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to be aware that if you have eczema or asthma, you may be at higher risk for peanut allergy. Talk to your doctor or an allergist if you’re concerned about your risk.
They can help you determine whether you need to take special precautions regarding peanuts, such as avoiding them altogether or carrying an epinephrine auto-injector in case of accidental exposure.
4. Exposure to peanuts during early childhood
There are a few reasons why early exposure to peanuts may be a risk factor for developing a peanut allergy.
First, the immune system is still developing during early childhood and may be more prone to developing allergies.
Second, early exposure to peanuts may sensitize the child’s immune system to the allergen, making them more likely to have an allergic reaction if they are exposed to peanuts again.
Also, peanuts are often one of the first solid foods that babies are exposed to, and their immature digestive systems may not be able to properly process the proteins in peanuts.
It is important to talk to your child’s doctor before introducing peanuts into their diet, as they can help you determine if your child is at risk for developing an allergy.
If you have a family history of allergies, or if your child has other allergies or asthma, they may be more likely to have a reaction to peanuts. The best way to prevent an allergy is to avoid exposure to the allergen, so it is important to talk to your doctor before giving your child peanuts or any other potentially allergenic food.
5. Autoimmune disorders
There are a few reasons why autoimmune disorders may be a risk factor for peanut allergy. One reason is that the immune system is already overactive in autoimmune disorders, and so it may be more likely to react to peanuts as an allergy.
Another reason is that people with autoimmune disorders may have a leaky gut, which can allow proteins from peanuts to enter the bloodstream and trigger an allergic reaction.
Finally, some studies have shown that people with certain autoimmune disorders are more likely to have peanut allergies. If you have an autoimmune disorder, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risks for peanut allergy and take steps to avoid exposure to peanuts.
6. Past allergy to peanuts
A new study has found that past allergy to peanuts is a major risk factor for peanut allergy in the future.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester, looked at the medical records of over 1,000 children with peanut allergies.
They found that children who had previously been diagnosed with an allergy to peanuts were more likely to develop a peanut allergy than those who had not.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, said that the findings suggest that “peanut allergy is not simply a matter of outgrowing an allergy; it is a potentially lifelong condition.” He added that the findings could have implications for the way that peanut allergies are treated.
Preventing Accidental Exposure
Avoid eating foods that contain peanuts or peanut products
This is the most common way that people are exposed to peanuts. Peanuts are often used in baking and as a topping on various foods. If you have a peanut allergy, it’s important to read labels carefully to avoid accidental exposure.
Avoid using personal care products that contain peanut oil
Many lotions, soaps, and shampoos contain peanut oil as an ingredient. If you have a peanut allergy, be sure to check the labels of these products before using them.
Other common sources of peanut exposure include contact with peanut dust or airborne peanut particles. This can occur when peanuts are being processed, such as during harvesting, cleaning, or grinding. Peanut products, such as peanut butter or peanut flour, can also release airborne particles when they are being used.
Being in close proximity to someone who is eating peanuts or handling peanut products
Even if you don’t directly eat or touch peanuts, you can still have an allergic reaction if you’re in close proximity to someone who is consuming them. If you’re allergic to peanuts, it’s important to avoid
Eating food that has been prepared in an area that also handles peanuts or peanut products
Best substitutes for peanuts:
While some people with a peanut allergy may also tend to be allergic to other nuts, it may not be the case for others. For such, there are multiple alternatives you can consider, including:
Almonds: Almonds have a similar flavor and texture to peanuts, making them a great substitute in recipes. You can use them whole, chopped, or ground into a powder.
Cashews: Cashews are another excellent substitute for peanuts. They have a creamy texture and a slightly sweet flavor that goes well in many recipes.
Sunflower Seeds: Sunflower seeds are a crunchy, nutty-tasting option that can be used in place of peanuts. They work well in cookies, bars, and granola.
Pumpkin Seeds: Pumpkin seeds are another crunchy option that can be used as a peanut substitute. They have a slightly sweet flavor and work well in recipes like trail mix and granola bars.
Sesame Seeds: Sesame seeds have a nutty flavor that goes well in many recipes. You can use them whole, chopped, or ground into a powder.
Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are tiny but pack a big punch when it comes to nutrition. They have a nutty flavor and can be used.
Peanut allergy is a serious condition caused by various factors, but they all come down to how the immune system processes the protein in peanuts.
This allergy is most commonly seen in people who have other allergies or eczema. It’s also thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to its development.
Some steps to help prevent peanut allergy include avoiding child exposure to peanuts early in life, eliminating peanuts from the diet or products that contain peanuts, and generally taking caution to prevent any inhalation or contact with peanut particles.
That being said, a peanut allergic reaction can be mild or severe, which may often require immediate medical intervention. So don’t forget to call 911. Also, its always good to bring an epinephrine auto-injector with you wherever you go in case of an emergency
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