Peanut Allergy – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options Available
Did you know there’s a popular spin on the old trusty peanut butter and jam sandwich?
If you butter the outside of the sandwich’s bread and then grill both sides, you’ll end up with a delicious grilled PB&J sammy.
Does this sound tempting? After trying this recipe first-hand, we can assure you it’s the perfect afternoon snack, especially paired with a glass of milk.
However, for many with a peanut butter allergy, the need for dietary caution is essential.
In the United States, it’s estimated that thousands of people visit the emergency room annually due to allergic reactions to food. Furthermore, roughly 200 people die yearly in the U.S. because of food allergies, and a peanut allergy causes half of these deaths.
While the number of deaths isn’t massive, having an allergy to this legume can greatly impact someone’s life (yes, that’s right, peanuts are legumes!).
Suzie Fromer, an advocate for the allergy awareness organization FARE, explains her son’s allergy to peanuts.
Fromer and her kids visited a bouncy castle where the vending machine sold packaged peanuts. She saw a child eating the salted snack nearby.
“A little bit later, I noticed my son had a swollen lip, most likely a contact reaction because it’s not from eating the food but rather just from touching a surface where the allergen has been and then touching his lip,” says Fromer.
She expressed that her son began a peanut allergy treatment called oral peanut immunotherapy (OIT), with a positive outcome. However, OIT needs to be done under the care of a professional and is not always successful
In this case, her son can now eat peanuts with caution—but that wasn’t always an option.
“Halloween used to be much tougher—now he can eat so much of the candy he collects,” notes Fromer.
A food allergy can affect someone’s life, particularly a child’s, because of the desire to belong. So, “Anything that helps these kids expand their food horizons and fit in with their peers is tremendously important,” explains this mother about her son’s increased tolerance to peanuts (even though the allergy isn’t entirely cured).
Also, according to FARE, the most typical food allergy in kids under 18 is peanuts, and they’re the third most typical food allergy in grownups.
Furthermore, only about 20 percent of kids with this particular allergy outgrow it over time.
It’s worth taking time to understand:
- What are peanut allergy symptoms?
- What causes peanut allergy?
- What are peanut allergy treatments?
We’ll work through each of the above questions in this comprehensive guide with a few additions. However, first thing’s first:
What is a peanut allergy?
An overactive immune system can cause a negative response to peanuts. It identifies the proteins within the legume as a threat. The body’s reactive and adverse symptoms to this perceived threat can be mild or extremely severe.
Is an allergy to peanuts the same as a sensitivity?
No, an allergy to peanuts is not the same as sensitivity. The main difference between food sensitivity and food allergy is our body’s reaction.
- Your immune system triggers the response when you have a food allergy.
- Your digestive system triggers the response when you have a food sensitivity.
Furthermore, Dr. Demetris Elia, Certified Functional Medicine Provider, explains that “An allergy will develop an IgE (immunoglobulin E) response in the body which could be life-threatening.”
A sensitivity will develop an IgG (immunoglobulin G) response and is generally not life-threatening.
“In the case of an IgE response, the immune system mobilizes mast cells to secrete histamine, and histamine causes many symptoms that develop during this allergic reaction,“ says Elia.
What are peanut allergy symptoms?
Peanut allergy symptoms can be numerous and include:
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy mouth
- Shortness of breath
When symptoms involve a number of organ systems or are severe, it’s sometimes called anaphylaxis. It causes the immune system to unleash chemicals into the body, resulting in a state of shock.
Anaphylaxis symptoms can include:
- Decreased blood pressure and shock.
- Throat swelling, which makes it hard or impossible to breathe.
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or even lack of consciousness.
A potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, can occur within seconds of exposure to an allergen (such as peanuts).
Epinephrine injection is required when anaphylaxis occurs. If you don’t have epinephrine, you’ll need to visit an emergency room immediately.
Treatment of anaphylaxis requires:
- Removal of the allergen.
- An epinephrine injection.
- An emergency room visit.
Call 911 (or the equivalent) to seek immediate emergency care if you don’t have epinephrine. If anaphylaxis isn’t quickly treated, it can cause death, so time is of the essence!
What causes peanut allergy?
An allergy to peanuts happens when your immune system mistakenly recognizes peanut proteins as dangerous.
Exposure to peanuts can occur in the following ways:
- Direct contact: The most common cause of an allergic reaction to peanuts is when someone eats them or a food that contains them. Also, direct skin contact with peanuts can sometimes trigger an allergic response.
- Cross-contact: Cross-contact can occur when food is unintentionally contaminated with a small amount of a food allergen (such as peanut). For example, if a knife with peanut butter is dipped in a jam jar, cross-contact can occur. A person with a peanut butter allergy could react negatively if they eat the contaminated jam. Also, food can be accidentally exposed to peanuts during processing.
- Inhalation: An allergic response can happen if you accidentally inhale dust or aerosols containing peanuts from a source like a peanut oil cooking spray or peanut flour.
If you or a loved one is wondering “what causes a peanut allergy,” it’s best to choose caution over convenience. For example, instead of buying a quick packaged lunch, take some time to prepare a peanut-free meal at home.
Peanut allergy treatments
Treatments for an allergy to peanuts include:
- Epinephrine (delivered by an EpiPen): Firstly, an EpiPen is the device’s brand name that, when injected, injects epinephrine into the body. There are other brands for this device, too.
Epinephrine works by blocking the progression of the allergic response.
It works by constricting blood vessels, which increases blood pressure, and reduces swelling. As a result, the:
- Muscles around the airway relax.
- Lungs open.
Also, epinephrine is a crucial tool to have on hand for adults and kids with severe intolerance to peanuts. It stops the release of allergic chemicals, which prevents the allergy reaction from worsening.
When do you need epinephrine?
Epinephrine auto-injectors are used for people at high risk for anaphylaxis (people with a severe reaction to peanuts).
Sometimes, a prescription may not be necessary. But do check with your doctor to understand the level of your allergy to peanuts fully. When food allergies are concerned, it’s vital to be prepared and armed with knowledge.
- Palforzia: Palforzia is believed to work by increasing someone’s tolerance to peanuts over time. It’s made from peanut protein in the form of a powder that’s placed in capsules.
Slowly, the body is exposed to the allergen with increased dosing for exposure.
Palforzia’s suggested use is for kids aged 4-17, but the manufacturer recommends continuing use after age 17 (unless your doctor says otherwise).
Palforzia shouldn’t be given during an allergic reaction because it doesn’t treat the reaction. Also, you have to be on a strict peanut-free diet while taking it.
Lastly, the first dose of Palforzia needs to be administered in the presence of a trained healthcare team. After dosage, the person needs to be observed for an hour. If any negative side effects occur while on Palforzia, contact your doc asap!
OIT: Some allergists offer OIT outside of Palforzia, but what exactly is it?
OIT involves eating dosed amounts of peanut protein daily from home. People using this treatment method increase the amount of peanut protein over time and under the supervision of an allergist.
Because OIT involves eating an allergy-causing food, negative reactions can occur. Therefore, OIT must NEVER be performed without ongoing supervision from a doctor.
The goal of OIT is to help a person become gradually more tolerant of peanuts. But this therapy is not recommended for everyone, so have a thorough discussion with your allergist and doctor to see if it’s a good fit.
How do I know if I have a peanut allergy?
To know what causes peanut allergy for you specifically, you have to know you have the allergy or sensitivity first!
To learn if you’re sensitive to peanuts:
- Take an at-home test. With Ravkoo LAB, registered users can order an at-home food sensitivity test. The Ravkoo Food Sensitivity Blood Test serves as a helpful tool to identify trigger foods.
To use this convenient and affordable at-home test:
- Order it from Ravkoo LAB.
- Follow directions for sample collection.
- Follow directions for return.
- Retrieve the lab results from within the app.
This comprehensive test measures IgG reactivity to 96 foods.
- Visit an allergist. Often, an allergist performs a skin prick test. The doctor puts a small amount of an allergen-containing liquid (such as peanut) into the skin by making a small scratch. This test often takes place on the person’s arm or back.
After 15 minutes, if a red bump (called a wheel) shows up where the peanut allergen is, the person could have a peanut butter allergy.
Also, an allergist can use a:
- Blood test: A physician might send a blood sample to be analyzed at a lab. The lab uses the blood to check for IgE antibodies to certain foods. If there are IgE antibodies to a specific food, the person might be intolerant to it.
- Oral food challenge: A person slowly eats an increasing amount of the possible food allergen while the physician monitors for symptoms. Because the oral food challenge can cause a negative reaction, it MUST be done under a doctor’s supervision.
What if the test shows an allergy?
Rest easy, knowing that your doctor will help you every step of the way.
They should ensure you get a:
- Diet plan.
- Symptom management strategy.
- Contact information for questions and concerns.
- Advice for an emergency.
- Prescription for epinephrine in the case of a severe allergic reaction.
If you take the Ravkoo LAB food sensitivity test from home, you’ll receive the next steps for care and treatment.
Risk factors for an allergy to peanuts
At this time, it’s unclear why some have peanut allergies while others don’t. But those with specific risk factors can more easily develop this allergy.
Risk factors include:
- Age: Most commonly, kids experience food allergies (especially infants and toddlers). But your digestive system matures as you get older, so you’re less likely to experience negative reactive symptoms.
- Past allergy to peanuts: Some kids with an allergy to peanuts outgrow it. But, even if you feel you’ve outgrown the allergy, it can occur again.
- Other allergies: You might develop an allergy to peanuts if you’re allergic to other foods. Also, having another kind of allergy, like hay fever, increases one’s chances of developing an intolerance to peanuts.
- Family members with allergies: If allergies or an allergy to peanuts runs in your family, you could be next on the list.
- Atopic dermatitis: According to NIH, scientists have found a link between atopic dermatitis and an allergic reaction to peanuts.
How to avoid an allergic reaction to peanuts?
Guaranteeing that you won’t ever contact peanuts isn’t possible. But you can take some steps to avoid them, such as:
- Prepare all meals by hand at home.
- Read food labels.
- Don’t disregard warnings saying the food may have been packaged or processed near peanuts.
Can an allergy to peanuts be cured?
While some treatments can improve tolerance, currently, there is no cure for peanut allergy.
It can be hard to feel left out when you’re allergic to peanuts, but know that you’re not alone. This health issue has been on the rise and is not uncommon.
Put your health first and take the proper steps to detect and treat a possible allergy to peanuts!