Peanut Allergy – Causes and Symptoms
Allergies are on the rise like never before. In the United States, more than half the nation is allergic to one or more allergens. Food allergies constitute one of the most important categories of allergies. It is estimated that about 3.9% of children below the age of 18 and 2% of adults suffer from allergies. The Food and Drug Administration have come out with a list of top eight most common foods which could stimulate food related allergies. Tree nut allergies rank high in the said list. A survey revealed that 3.3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts.
Peanut allergy is very common, particularly in children. Symptoms of peanut allergy may range from mild irritation to the anaphylaxis, a life threatening condition. In some cases, even small amounts of peanuts may cause severe reaction. If your child or you had a peanut reaction, tell the physician about it. Peanut allergy is one among the severe allergy attacks. It is must to get even a mild reaction to peanuts checked by a physician. If you or your kid has had a mild reaction to peanuts, you are still at a risk of severe attack in the future.
Causes of Peanut Allergy
Peanut allergy develops when the immune system mistakenly identifies proteins of peanuts as some harmful substance. If you have an indirect or direct contact with the peanuts, immune system shows a symptom that releases chemicals into the blood. It is still unknown why some people are allergic to peanuts, while some are not.
Exposure to peanuts may develop in several ways:
Cross-contact – This is unintended introducing of peanuts into a particular product. Generally, it is due to the food which is being exposed to the peanuts while handling or processing.
Direct Contact – The major cause of allergy to peanuts is consuming foods containing peanuts or eating peanuts. Sometimes direct skin contact may cause allergic reaction to peanuts.
Inhalation – This may occur if you breathe in aerosols or dust containing peanuts like peanut oil cooking spray or peanut flour.
Symptoms of Peanut Allergy
Allergic reaction to peanuts occurs in a few minutes after exposure and symptoms may range from mild to serious.
Mild symptoms include:
• Tingling of throat and tongue
• Itchy skin rash
Severe symptoms include:
• Gastrointestinal distress
• Abdominal pain
• Urticaria or hives
• Atopical eczema
• Swelling of face, lips, mouth and throat as in angioedema
• Asthma or worsening of existing asthma
• Anaphylaxis or an emergency medical condition characterized by loss of consciousness, lightheadedness, dizziness, vomiting, wheezing, drop in blood pressure, shortness of breath etc
Diagnosis of Peanut Allergy
Peanut allergy can have far greater consequences than originally thought to be. It has the potential of turning into a life threatening situation. Hence, it is imperative that allergy testing is done to confirm the allergy. The various methods of testing are as follows:
Skin Prick Method – In this method, the skin is pricked and the allergen is introduced in the body. If the symptoms like red, itchy bumps or hives appear on skin then the allergy is confirmed.
Patch Testing – In this method, the allergen is allowed to be in contact with the skin with the help of a patch for a period of 72 hours. If symptoms appear then the allergy is confirmed.
Blood Tests – Blood test is done to look for the IgE antibodies associated with allergies. These tests are known as RAST (Radioallergosorbent Test) or ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay). The presence of the antibodies confirms the allergy.
Food Challenge Test – The individual is asked to eliminate peanuts from the diet for a period of 10-14 days. The food suspected to cause the allergy is reintroduced after the said time period. If symptoms reappear then the allergy is confirmed. However, there is risk of anaphylaxis associated with the reintroduction of the allergen. So this test needs to be conducted under medical supervision.
Treatment of Peanut Allergy
• The first and foremost treatment of the said allergy is to eliminate the allergen from diet. Elimination of the allergen generally resolves the symptoms on its own.
• Mild to moderate reactions respond well to antihistamines. Antihistamines resolve symptoms caused by the excess histamine in the body.
• Atopical ointments are generally used to treat skin rashes and reactions.
• In cases of anaphylaxis, a self injectable dose of epinephrine needs to be administered.
• Allergy shots or allergen immunotherapy is a permanent method of addressing this problem. The allergic individual is given very small dose of the peanut protein causing allergies. If the dose is tolerated then it is progressively increased in small amounts. Gradually the immunological tolerance of the individual is established.
In 2007, the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University made an announcement that they had developed an allergen free peanut. This new product contains none of the allergy causing substances. Maybe this could be a solution to the problem of peanut allergies. However, using these kinds of products on a large scale might make peanut allergies more common because the possibilities of developing resistance would become smaller.
Prevention of Peanut Allergy
• The said allergy requires utmost caution from the sufferer. It is never eliminated and the antibodies reacting to the peanut protein are established in the body and would react aggressively on being exposed to it.
• Read labels well. The FDA has made it mandatory to have warnings against nut allergies mentioned on the label if the product has been exposed to them. Products which are being processed in equipments which have been used for nuts need to have the same information stated on the label.
• While dining out or eating in restaurants, insist on checking the ingredients before placing the order of the menu chosen.
• Wear a medical identification tag or allergy bracelet containing the information of your said sensitivity, so that it becomes easier for medical practitioners to treat you in case of an emergency.
• Immunotherapy or allergy shots could be tried to eliminate allergies. In this therapy, the individual is injected with the same allergen one is sensitive in very small amounts. The dose is progressively increased in very little amounts. The body starts getting used to the allergen and the immunological tolerance sets in. However, the physician should decide whether it is meant for you as it can cause severe anaphylactic reactions.
This is all about peanut allergy in detail.