Last Updated: 12th October 2016
Whether you hear about it on the TV or through debates on parenting forums, peanut allergy cases are growing. In fact, studies have shown that between 1997 and 2008 the number of children suffering from peanut allergies has tripled! This is an alarming rate, especially with other studies showing that eight out of 10 children will suffer from an allergic reaction the first time they try a peanut.
Just why is it that peanut allergies have grown and how are they caused in the first place? We want to do everything we can for our kids to protect them and help them have successful unlimited futures. Here’s a look at all you need to know about the allergies and all the symptoms you should look out for to get help as soon as you or your children need it.
What Exactly Is a Peanut Allergy?
Peanuts are commonly believed to be part of the tree nut family. It makes sense. They do seem very much like Brazil, almond, and other similar nuts. This isn’t the case. The peanut is more closely related to soybeans, peas and lentils.
It was once thought that a peanut allergy would remain with children for the rest of their lives. Science has now indicated that some people outgrow it. At the moment, about 20% of people outgrow their allergies. It could be more, but many people will avoid the ingredients once they realise the first time that they suffer problems, especially if the allergic reactions are serious.
The type of reaction differs between people. Some people will have mild reactions that they can control through over the counter medication. Others will have severe reactions that require hospital treatment and may lead to death. It’s something we’ll look at when considering all the symptoms of a peanut allergy.
What Exactly Happens to the Body?
When the body is suffering from an allergic reaction, what exactly happens? What creates the symptoms that many people notice, including the wheezing, itchy rash and swelling?
The first stage isn’t seen. It’s when the immune system releases antibodies to fight against the ingredient. This can be as soon as someone breathes in the particles, which is why some schools have started banning all peanut products because there are students with such severe allergies.
To fight off the “infection,” the antibodies include histamines. These are chemicals in the body, and the reason many people will use anti-histamine medications to help fight against the allergic reaction. Histamines are created in any allergic reaction, whether it is to insect bites, other food, or even to pollen. It’s the histamines that create the many symptoms experienced when suffering from allergies.
Why Do We Suffer Peanut Allergies?
Now you know what an allergy is, it’s time to understand why they happen. Why have they grown so much in recent years?
There are various theories given by scientists. Unfortunately, the exact answer is unknown. All that is known is that the immune system is fighting against something within the peanut, and it is likely the proteins. Peanuts have proteins that aren’t found in any other food, so the body just isn’t used to digesting them on a daily basis.
The immune system believes that the proteins are harmfully invading the body, so it starts to fight against them. This leads to the symptoms, as it attempts to fight off something that isn’t an infection.
Some of the theories into the reason for the growth in the number of allergies reported is that science has just adapted so much. The immune system feels like it needs to do something but doesn’t have as many illnesses actually to fight against. It creates something, and this means ingredients and components that are good for the body are viewed as something bad.
This theory can be backed by the look at the number of peanut allergies reported in China. The country boils peanuts, which damages most of the proteins in the ingredient. This can lead to fewer proteins for the body to fight against. There is also more pollution in the country, giving the immune system something to fight against already. It doesn’t need to create work for itself, so people are less likely to find they can’t eat peanuts—and other foods that they become allergic to.
Some scientists believe that the amount of peanuts people in the western world consume accounts for more peanut allergies. It does mean that more children than before are eating the ingredients, so more allergies are noted and diagnosed. Parents are also switching healthy, homemade snacks for the easy to reach snacks, meaning more proteins are hitting the body than ever before.
Others believe that more exposure early on accounts for the eight out of 10 children having allergic reactions the first time they try the nuts. This could be through exposure while the foetus is in the womb or even while the baby is getting breast milk. The body is already fighting off the proteins and indicates them as harmful, so when it comes to getting a larger amount the body fights them off harder.
Video games and kids being stuck indoors is another theory given by scientists. The vitamin D from the sun helps the immune system develop fully. At the same time, playing outside exposes children to dirt and germs, which helps their immune systems fight off against things that it does need to protect the body from. When it comes to eating peanuts, the immune system doesn’t need to create something for it to do. The best thing you can do is let your kids explore and not wash their hands right away when they get back inside—unless they have been exploring in something harmful. Dirt is fine in small amounts!
Why Are the Severities Different?
Every person is different, which is why the severities of allergic reactions differ. The scientists don’t understand why some people suffer more than others or understand how to prevent something like this from happening.
In most cases, the allergies don’t happen until someone eats peanuts. The proteins get into the digestive system and cause the immune system response. Sometimes, the severity is at the point where the proteins just have to be touched or absorbed into the body as soon as they reach the lips or mouth.
The most severe cases will involve where people breathe in the particles and suffer from allergic reactions. This is most common in enclosed spaces, such as restaurants and schools, hence the reason for some schools to be completely peanut free. The schools and restaurants will need to be alerted if there is such a severe allergic reaction to the ingredient. Restaurants may not be able to do anything, which can be distressing for the sufferer.
Schools banning all peanut products has become a debate among parents. Some parents don’t understand why their children are being banned from bringing in peanut products, and why the sufferer can’t eat somewhere else to avoid allergic reactions.
How Can You Stop a Peanut Allergy?
With so little currently understood about peanut allergies and why some people suffer so severely from them, it is very difficult to understand how the allergies can be prevented or cured. In fact, there is no way of curing the allergy, apart from letting the body adjust, and the immune system stops seeing the proteins as a threat.
It is possible to help deal with the symptoms, though. Over the counter, anti-histamine medications are among the most popular options for people with known allergies. These medications help to fight against the chemicals being created, limiting the symptoms felt. They don’t always completely cure the symptoms, so some like runny eyes and wheezing may still be experienced.
There are other medications offered, such as epi-pens to help deal with the symptoms temporarily. In most cases, the sufferer will need to seek medical attention afterwards, as this is an indication that the allergic reaction is severe.
In some more serious cases, the sufferer needs to get straight to the hospital for help before the airway is completely blocked by swelling.
Avoidance Is the Best Way to Prevent
The unfortunate answer for many is to avoid anything with peanuts or even traces of peanuts to prevent any allergic reaction. The good news is that this is easier than some other foods that people are allergic to. All foods must indicate if peanuts are in the ingredients and whether there is a risk of contamination from other products. Cross-contamination can happen when something is made in the same factory as something with peanuts.
Those who have the allergy will need to check all labels. They will also need to discuss this with restaurants to find out the risk of contamination from foods cooked in the restaurants. Some restaurants will use peanut oil or peanut butter in their recipes, and only indicate this in passing on their menus once you’re already there. You can ask for some to be made separately, but there may still be a risk of cross-contamination.
The best way to avoid any contamination is by making everything at home from scratch. You could replace the peanuts with other ingredients that you aren’t allergic to, like other types of nuts, seeds, oats and even raisins. Seed butter is a popular option to replace peanut butter if you suffer from an allergy to all nuts.
Can I Eat Peanut Oil?
Peanut oil is used in many restaurants and considered a healthy option for many. Can you eat or oil pull with it if you’re allergic to the ingredient?
This will depend on the way the oil has been created and the severity of your allergy. Some oils have been refined and purified so much that the protein from the peanuts has been completely removed. All you’re left with is the taste of the peanut and nothing that the body is going to react against. Watch out for unrefined peanut oil, which will still have the protein and cause problems. The unrefined options may also be called gourmet, aromatic or cold-pressed peanut oils.
The best thing for you to do is discuss this with your dietician and doctor. They will know if your allergy is too severe even to try refined peanut oils. There are plenty of other oils to try instead.
Will I Outgrow a Peanut Allergy?
As mentioned, 20 percent of people eventually outgrown their peanut allergy. It’s difficult to tell whether you will be one of the 20 percents or whether this number is higher. Some people may not even try peanuts in the future to know if they have outgrown the allergy or not have other tests later in life to test the severity of their childhood allergies.
The best thing you can do again talks to your doctor or dietician. Find out about the statistics for people with your severity and what tests can be taken to see if you will outgrow the allergy.
There is little that you can do to help yourself outgrow it. As scientists believe getting outside and helping the immune system have things to fight against is a way to help prevent an allergy developing, it is possible that this will help you outgrow your allergy. It’s certainly worth a try, but make sure you protect your skin against UV rays!
How Are Patients Diagnosed With Peanut Allergies?
Now that you know all about peanut allergies and how they’re formed, it’s time to find out how they’re diagnosed. This part is tricky for many, especially when it comes to the less severe reactions. Any food allergies tend to be difficult to diagnose.
For those with severe allergies, the diagnosis is often quick. You’ll come out with symptoms as soon as you eat something with peanuts or you may suffer them as soon as you touch it.
Unfortunately, not everyone will have the same symptoms every time their immune system reacts! This makes diagnosis extremely hard, especially in minor cases. You’ll need to go through various tests to find out what is causing it, which may involve cutting everything out of your diet that may be causing the allergy and slowly trying different foods. It’s a case of trial and error to find the reason, which may take months.
You will need to keep a food diary if you believe you have an allergy. Your dietician and doctor will be able to look through your diet to see what the potential cause is. Make a note of the times that you eat and the amount of each food you have. Be as accurate as possible.
When you have symptoms, state clearly what they are, when they appeared and how severe they were. It is possible that a pattern is noticed with the foods that you eat. You’ll also need to note down what you did to help ease your symptoms and how long it took until you were able to feel normal again.
Sometimes, this food elimination diet leads to inconclusive results. This will lead to the need to carry out an oral food challenge, where you will be fed small amounts of peanut-based products, with the dosage increasing over time. This is all done under a controlled environment so your symptoms can be tested and there is medical help available should you suffer a severe and dangerous reaction. Don’t attempt to do this yourself at home!
What Are the Symptoms You’ll Experience With a Peanut Allergy?
It’s now time to know what symptoms you need to look out for. As we’ve seen, people will suffer in different ways, and you may even not have the same symptoms each time. This can be very difficult when helping to diagnose the allergy in children.
The first thing to do is listen to your children if you think they’re suffering from an allergy. When they feel uncomfortable or have rashes, make a note of them. They’re not trying to be difficult but want you to know that something isn’t right within themselves. If you’ve fed a baby a peanut product or a child, who can’t talk, look out for signs of discomfort, including uncontrollable crying and pull knees up to their stomachs to help alleviate some of the symptoms.
Anaphylaxis is the most severe symptom of a peanut allergy, and can be life-threatening if left untreated. Those who already have known allergies may carry epi-pens, which give them the drugs needed to help eliminate the swelling that causes the wheezing breaths. Other signs of anaphylaxis include blood pressure drops, dizziness or fainting, and blue lips with pale skin. The epi-pens have adrenaline boosts to help treat the problem.
Many of these sufferers will still need a trip to the hospital. In some cases, an ambulance will need to be called as the patient won’t have an epi-pen and may not even know they have an allergy to the ingredient.
Those with less severe symptoms may notice numerous signs that they are suffering from an allergic reaction. One of those is hives or an itchy rash on their skin. This rash can appear in a spotty pattern where the person has touched the food or may be in large welts all over the body. It does vary between people and can vary in different instances of the allergic reaction. You may initially see small spots that turn into large welts covering the whole body.
Some people also suffer from a tingling sensation in their lips. It could be that not enough blood is getting to the lips due to minor swelling in the body. The lips can also start to turn blue if they’re not getting enough. In most minor cases, this problem will disappear on its own and not leave any lasting damage.
An itchy mouth is another sign that you have an allergy to the ingredient. This could also develop into a rash within the mouth and be sore after some time. Some people will feel this as soon as the peanuts touch the mouth, while others only notice it after some time when the food has started to digest.
Congestion or a runny nose and runny eyes are other symptoms of histamines in the body. These symptoms are noted most with hayfever, but the reason is the same. The immune system is releasing histamines to fight against what it believes is harmful. Some patients all complain of feeling nauseous, and some are physically sick due to the histamines in the body.
How to Be Prepared for Your Children
Looking after your children is the most important thing as a parent. If they suffer from allergies, you want to make sure you’re prepared. You just never know when symptoms may strike because you can’t check everywhere they go or everything they do. You may not even know at risk that they have a severe allergy.
The same applies to yourself. You need to be ready for everything as you can’t control everything that happens in your life.
Make sure you have your epi-pen if you have been prescribed one. Have extra if you are going away on a vacation or will be away for a longer period than a day trip. By having it with you, you can administer it if something does happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re only going to a friend’s house, or you’re away on a vacation.
When your child is at school, make sure they have their pen with them. Ensure the school is aware of the medical need and ensure they will do everything possible to keep your child protected.
By knowing the symptoms, you’ll be able to act before they get severe. Practice using the pen to make sure you know what to do should you need to use it. Also make sure your children know what to do, as soon as they are old enough. If you’re the one with the allergy, it’s worth teaching your children what to do if you have a reaction in case you can’t do anything.
When the pen has been used, make sure you call for an ambulance and keep the empty pen. The paramedics will need to know exactly what has been injected to know what they can do afterwards.
Knowing all the symptoms and all of peanut allergies will prevent severe problems in the future. While there isn’t much you can do to prevent an allergy from forming, you can prevent the symptoms in the majority of cases. Be prepared and read all the labels, whether you or your children suffer from a peanut allergy.
Having this knowledge also helps you to choose the food you buy carefully. Since peanut is sometimes an ingredient, you can find ways to use alternative ones when cooking. You can also avoid food with peanuts when eating outside.