Peanut Allergy: 6 Things You Need to Know

peanut butter and bread

Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Peanuts can cause a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Allergy to peanuts is on the rise in children, and the number of children in the U.S. with peanut allergy more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. Even if you or your child has had only a mild allergic reaction to peanuts, it's important you talk to your healthcare provider.

Here are some key things you need to know:

  1. 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 allergy symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream. An allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure.

  2. Peanut allergies tend to be lifelong, although studies indicate approximately 20 percent of children with peanut allergy do eventually outgrow their allergy. Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.). Peanuts grow underground and are part of a different plant family, the legumes. An estimated 25-40 percent of people who are allergic to peanuts are also allergic to tree nuts. In addition, peanuts and tree nuts often come into contact during the manufacturing and serving process. For these reasons it is a good idea for peanut allergic people to avoid tree nuts as well.

  3. 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.

    • Indirect contact: the unintended introduction of peanuts in a product during process or handling.

    • Inhalation: an allergic reaction can occur if you inhale dust or aerosols containing peanut protein (examples include someone eating peanut butter, using peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray nearby)

  4. Peanut allergy signs and symptoms can include:

    • Runny nose

    • Skin itching, redness, rash or welts

    • Itching or tingling in or around the mouth or throat and swelling or puffiness of lips and face

    • Digestive problems like vomiting or stomach cramps or profuse severe diarrhea

    • Tightening of the throat or frequent throat clearing due to itchy throat

    • Shortness of breath or wheezing

  5. Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening reaction:

  6. Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that requires treatment with a self-injectable Epinephrine device (Epipen, Auvi-Q,T winject) and a trip to the hospital emergency room.
    Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms can include:

    • Generalized hives

    • Wheezing and difficulty breathing due to constriction of airways

    • Swelling of airways or throat or tongue

    • Severe drop in blood pressure (shock) causing dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

    • Rapid pulse

  7. When to see a doctor:

    • If you have any signs or symptoms of peanut allergy.

    • Seek emergency treatment if you have a severe reaction to peanuts.

Fatima Mohiuddin, MD is an allergist at SwedishAmerican's Brookside Specialty Center, 1253 North Alpine Road, in Rockford. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call (779) 696-9201.