Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies: An Overview

How common is a peanut allergy or a tree nut allergy?

According to FARE, the number of children reported to suffer from peanut and/or tree nut allergies has tripled from 1997 to 2008. There are roughly two children per class who have a food allergy, and since allergic reactions can kill if not properly treated, the need for allergy education has risen.

Why am I allergic to peanuts?

The reason people have an adverse reaction to peanuts is because their body reacts to the peanut allergen like it’s an attack and releases histamines to fight it. Basically, it’s an immune response that backfires and you end up hurting yourself instead of the allergen you wanted to destroy.  

The difference between peanut and tree nut

Because peanuts are legumes (that grow underground) and tree nuts are nuts (that grow on trees) not everyone who is allergic to one will be allergic to both. Tree nuts include:

  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Brazil nuts

Nut allergy symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of an allergic reaction can save a child’s life. There are severe reactions and mild reactions – imagine red is the worst, and green is the least.

Red symptoms are:  
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Racing heart, heart palpitations
  • Swollen tongue, throat, lips
  • Feeling faint
Green symptoms are:
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Funny feeling inside ears
  • Tingling tongue
  • Red skin, hives, rashes  

What foods you have to watch out for

Peanuts and tree nuts are very common ingredients, so watch out for these foods. Always check the ingredients of what you’re eating, and be wary of foods that say “May contain traces of nuts” or “Was made in a factory that contained nuts” as they have a high chance of being contaminated.

  • Sauces. Foods like Thai use peanuts as a garnish for their sauces.
  • Cookies, biscuits, crackers.
  • Cakes, buns, pastries. Watch out for no flour recipes, as almond powder is a common substitute.
  • Breads. Look at for breads that have sesame seeds. Sesame contains an allergen that may cause you to react the same as you do to nuts.
  • Salads.
  • Vegan foods. Nuts are a popular substitute for animal products.
  • Vegetarian foods.
  • Candy.  A lot of candies are made in factories that contain nuts.

Nut allergy treatment

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for peanut or tree nut allergies. Doctors have started to identify at-risk infants and expose them to allergens early on in order to prevent an allergy, but there is no cure for nut allergies. They are easily treatable, however, should someone have an allergic reaction.  

  • Antihistamines. These oral tablets can be taken when someone has a mild reaction. These reduce or block the histamines your body release when triggered by an allergen, so if you just have a runny nose or a rash, take these.
  • EpiPen (Epinephrine). This is an injection of adrenaline that works by relaxing the muscles in the throat and tightening the blood vessels, alleviating the anaphylaxis. However, this is not enough treatment on its own. Should someone have a reaction this severe, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.  

Peanut and tree nut allergies are easily manageable, so people shouldn’t feel overwhelmed if they, or their child, are diagnosed. It’s easy to live with a nut allergy! Just be careful and always ask yourself what’s in the food your eating.

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