Definition

What is peanut allergy?

Peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks. Peanut allergy symptoms can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis). For some people with peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause a serious reaction.

How common is peanut allergy?

Peanut allergy is very common. Peanut allergy has been increasing in children. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of peanut allergy?

The common symptoms of peanut allergy are:

  • Runny nose
  • Skin reactions, such as hives, redness or swelling
  • Itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat
  • Digestive problems, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting
  • Tightening of the throat
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening reaction

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that requires treatment with an epinephrine (adrenaline) injector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Twinject) and a trip to the emergency room.

Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms can include:

  • Constriction of airways
  • Swelling of the throat that makes it difficult to breathe
  • A severe drop in blood pressure (shock)
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes peanut allergy?

Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful. Direct or indirect contact with peanuts causes your immune system to release symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream.

Exposure to peanuts can occur in various ways:

  • Direct contact. The most common cause of peanut allergy is eating peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Sometimes direct skin contact with peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Cross-contact. This is the unintended introduction of peanuts into a product. It’s generally the result of a food being exposed to peanuts during processing or handling.
  • An allergic reaction may occur if you inhale dust or aerosols containing peanuts, from a source such as peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for peanut allergy?

There are many risk factors for peanut allergy, such as:

  • Food allergies are most common in children, especially toddlers and infants. As you grow older, your digestive system matures, and your body is less likely to react to food that triggers allergies.
  • Past allergy to peanuts. Some children with peanut allergy outgrow it. However, even if you seem to have outgrown peanut allergy, it may recur.
  • Other allergies. If you’re already allergic to one food, you may be at increased risk of becoming allergic to another. Likewise, having another type of allergy, such as hay fever, increases your risk of having a food allergy.
  • Family members with allergies. You’re at increased risk of peanut allergy if other allergies, especially other types of food allergies, are common in your family.
  • Atopic dermatitis. Some people with the skin condition atopic dermatitis (eczema) also have a food allergy.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is peanut allergy diagnosed?

Diagnosing a peanut allergy can be complicated. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and a single individual may not always experience the same symptoms during every reaction.

If you suspect you are allergic to peanuts, make an appointment to see an allergist. Start a food diary before the appointment, and keep track of any reactions. If you have a reaction, you should note:

  • What (and how much) you ate
  • When the symptoms started
  • What you did to alleviate the symptoms
  • How long it took before the symptoms were relieved

Your allergist will ask you about your history of allergy symptoms. You’ll also be asked about your overall health and your family medical history, including any relatives with allergies.

Because a peanut allergy can be difficult to diagnose through skin tests or blood tests, your allergist may put you on a food elimination diet, in which you avoid the suspected food allergen for a specific period of time (normally two to four weeks). If your symptoms improve when the item is removed from your diet, it’s likely that you are allergic to it.

If the food elimination diet produces inconclusive results, your allergist may recommend an oral food challenge. During this test, you will be fed tiny amounts of peanut or peanut-based products in increasing doses over a period of time in an allergist’s office or a food challenge center. Emergency medication and emergency equipment will be on hand during this procedure in case you have a severe reaction.

How is peanut allergy treated?

There’s no definitive treatment for peanut allergy, but researchers continue to study desensitization. Oral immunotherapy (desensitization) involves giving children with peanut allergies, or those at risk for peanut allergies, increasing doses of food containing peanuts over time. However, the long-term safety of oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy is still uncertain, and this treatment is not yet FDA approved.

New research suggests that desensitizing at-risk children to peanuts between ages 4 and 11 months may be effective at preventing peanut allergy. Check with your doctor because there are significant risks of anaphylaxis if early introduction of peanuts is performed incorrectly.

In the meantime, as with any food allergy, treatment involves taking steps to avoid the foods that cause your reaction and knowing how to spot and respond to a severe reaction.

Being prepared for a reaction

The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut products altogether. But peanuts are common, and despite your best efforts, you’re likely to come into contact with peanuts at some point.

For a severe allergic reaction, you may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and to visit the emergency room. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Twinject). This device is a syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh.

Know how to use your autoinjector

If your doctor has prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector:

  • Carry it with you at all times. It may be a good idea to keep an extra autoinjector in your car and in your desk at work.
  • Always replace it before its expiration date. Out-of-date epinephrine may not work properly.
  • Ask your doctor to prescribe a backup autoinjector. If you misplace one, you’ll have a spare.
  • Know how to operate it. Ask your doctor to show you. Also, make sure the people closest to you know how to use it — if someone with you can give you a shot, he or she could save your life.
  • Know when to use it. Talk to your doctor about how to recognize when you need a shot. However, if you’re not sure whether you need a shot, it’s usually better to go ahead and use the emergency epinephrine.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage peanut allergy?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with peanut allergy:

  • Never assume a food doesn’t contain peanuts. Peanuts may be in foods that you had no idea contained them. Always read labels on manufactured foods to make sure they don’t contain peanuts or peanut products. Manufactured foods are required to clearly state whether foods contain any peanuts and if they were produced in factories that also process peanuts.Even if you think you know what’s in a food, check the label. Ingredients may change. Don’t ignore a label that says a food was produced in a factory that processes peanuts. Most people with a peanut allergy need to avoid all products that could contain even trace amounts of peanuts.
  • When in doubt, say “no thanks.” At restaurants and social gatherings, you’re always taking a risk that you might accidentally eat peanuts. Many people don’t understand the seriousness of an allergic food reaction, and may not realize that a tiny amount of a food can cause a severe reaction. If you are at all worried that a food may contain something you’re allergic to, don’t try it.
  • Be prepared for a reaction. Talk with your doctor about carrying emergency medications in case of severe reaction.

Avoiding foods that contain peanuts

Peanuts are common, and avoiding foods that contain them can be a challenge. The following foods often contain peanuts:

  • Ground or mixed nuts
  • Baked goods, such as cookies and pastries
  • Ice cream and frozen desserts
  • Energy bars
  • Cereals and granola
  • Grain breads
  • Marzipan, a candy made of nuts, egg whites and sugar

Less obvious foods may contain peanuts or peanut proteins, either because they were made with them or because they came in contact with them during the manufacturing process. Some examples include:

  • Nougat
  • Salad dressings
  • Chocolate candies, nut butters (such as almond butter) and sunflower seeds
  • Ethnic foods including African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes
  • Foods sold in bakeries and ice-cream shops
  • Arachis oil, another name for peanut oil
  • Pet food

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 28, 2017 | Last Modified: November 28, 2017

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