Peanut allergies have become one of the fastest growing health concerns among schools everywhere, considering the number of new cases reported in young children each year.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwich, once considered a lunchbox staple is finding its way less and less into “nut-free” lunchrooms across the nation as school districts move to restrict peanuts and other peanut products from the classroom.
What sets peanut allergies apart from many other food allergies is the potential severity of the allergic reaction. Peanut proteins are commonly associated with “anaphylaxis”, a dangerous, life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
Symptoms—Both Mild and Severe
Peanut allergy symptoms generally occur within minutes of ingesting peanuts, (or products containing peanuts) and may include:
• Hives or small spots/large welts, itchy skin
• Tingling or itching in or around the mouth or throat
• Nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting
• A congested or runny nose
• Wheezing/shortness of breath
• Anaphylaxis (less common), a life-threatening condition that affects many bodily functions, restricts breathing and can cause the body to completely shutdown
What Causes Peanut Allergies?
When the body’s immune system mistakes peanut proteins for harmful foreign invaders it mounts an immune system response to protect itself. This results in an allergic reaction. Contact with peanuts either directly or indirectly can cause powerful chemicals to be released into the bloodstream.
Exposure may occur through:
• Direct contact: Ingesting peanuts or foods/food products containing peanuts is the most common cause of exposure. Skin contact with peanuts may also cause an allergic reaction to occur.
• Cross contact: This results when foods are exposed to peanuts during processing, handling, or preparation.
• Inhalation: It is possible to trigger an allergic response by inhaling peanut dust from peanut products, such as peanut flour, or from aerosol sprays like peanut oil/spray.
Management and Treatment
• Prevention and avoidance are the keys to successful management of peanut allergies.
• Inadvertent exposure to peanuts may require the need for emergency medical treatment.
• Some who suffer from peanut allergies carry an epinephrine auto injector. This can counteract the possible severe effects of anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening if not treated.
Misconceptions Surrounding Peanuts and Peanut Allergies
• A peanut is not actually a tree nut, but a legume. Legumes are part of the same family as soybeans, peas and lentils.
• Research at the National Institutes of Health reveals that roughly 20 percent of those with peanut allergies do eventually outgrow it.