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There can be a lot of anxiety and confusion about peanuts and peanut allergies. If you or someone you love is told they have a peanut allergy, that diagnosis can strike fear in your heart. This is in part because peanuts are most commonly associated with anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. It can also be difficult to deal with the loss of safety and spontaneity that comes with a peanut allergy diagnosis.
But understanding your peanut allergy may help calm your fears.
A peanut allergy is a common type of food allergy in both children and adults. A peanut allergy, like any allergy, is when your immune system identifies the proteins in peanuts as harmful. When you come into contact with these proteins, your immune system reacts and releases histamines, which then cause your allergic reaction.
Peanut allergic reactions are generally the most common culprit of fatal food–induced anaphylaxis, with the highest-risk groups being adolescents with asthma.1,2
In fact, studies show that people allergic to peanuts have a higher risk of anaphylaxis compared with people who are allergic to other foods, like milk or egg.3
And an allergy to peanuts usually lasts a lifetime—only about 20% of people with this allergy outgrow it.4 Some people, who eventually outgrow their peanut allergy, had previously had severe reactions to peanuts. So the severity of your reaction doesn’t mean you won’t outgrow the allergy.
Peanuts are the number one cause of death related to food-induced anaphylaxis.5 Symptoms of anaphylaxis include impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, pale skin or blue lips, dizziness and fainting.
Less severe symptoms of a peanut allergy are similar to most allergy symptoms and include:
Even though peanuts have the word “nuts” in their name, they are legumes, not nuts. Allergy to more than one nut is common. 1 out of 2 nut allergic teenagers react to more than one nut. 1 out of 3 peanut allergic patients also report tree nut allergy. And more than half of tree nut allergic patients report an allergy to peanuts.7-11
People with a peanut allergy also commonly avoid tree nuts because of the likelihood of cross-contact or cross-contamination—when one food comes into contact with another food and their proteins mix—during the manufacturing process.8-11
If you have a confirmed peanut allergy diagnosis, you should avoid peanut in all forms including anything containing traces of peanut in it. Obvious sources include roasted, dry roasted, salted or plain peanuts and peanut butter. But peanuts can be a hidden ingredient in many foods—this is why it’s important to read the label or ask before buying or eating foods. Ingredients in packaged foods can change at any time—and without warning.
More than 10% of patients with peanut or tree nut allergy report experiencing reactions in restaurants or other food establishments.6 Because of their common use of peanuts, Asian restaurants, ice cream parlors and bakeries are considered high-risk for people with a peanut allergy. Even if you order a peanut-free item, there is the possibility of cross-contamination.
The importance of testing is to confirm if these drastic measures are required, since many patients react to peanut due to cross reactivity, with for example pollen, with the much less severe symptoms.
Peanuts can be found in many foods and drinks, including:
Baked goods like pastries and cookies
Candy including chocolates
Sweets like pudding and hot chocolate
African, Asian and Mexican dishes
Glazes and marinades
Sauces such as chili sauce, hot sauce, pesto, gravy, mole sauce, enchilada sauce and salad dressing
Some vegetarian foods, especially meat substitutes
Foods that contain extruded, cold-pressed or expelled peanut oil
You may be so used to avoiding peanuts that you haven’t considered asking if you still need to. People who have high levels of peanut antibodies in their blood are most likely to have a peanut allergy for life.12-15 A simple blood test that measures these antibodies and can help your healthcare professional determine whether or not you or your child are likely to outgrow a peanut allergy. Knowing the true cause of your symptoms now may also help you avoid more serious issues in the future.15 For example, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER every 3 minutes.16
Knowing if you’re allergic and what you’re allergic to can help can help you get relief. Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional.