What Is A Peanut Allergy?
Peanuts contain certain specific proteins. When your body's immune system develops an abnormal, hypersensitivity response to one or more of these proteins, you are said to have a peanut allergy.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies in both children and adults. The main reason why peanut allergies receive particular importance is - they are very common, lifelong, and may cause severe allergic reactions.
Peanut allergy is the prime cause of anaphylaxis and death because of food allergy. It can result in a huge burden on patients and their families. Peanut is a customary food ingredient making strict prohibition difficult. So, there is a fairly high rate of accidental peanut ingestions for those trying to avoid having peanuts. Due to these reasons, peanut allergy has become a significant public health issue.
How Common Is A Peanut Allergy?
This occurrence of peanut allergy has risen considerably over the last decade, specifically in westernized countries. The occurrence of peanut allergy in westernized countries is about 0.5%, with the greatest occurrence in children under three years of age. This rise in occurrence has also occurred with other allergic conditions, including eczema (atopic dermatitis), hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and asthma. Peanut allergy is increasingly common in underdeveloped areas of the world, including Asia and Africa. Emerging literature recommends that the increasing rate of peanut allergy might be stabilizing in most nations, including the United States.
What Causes Peanut Allergy?
Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system unintentionally detects peanut proteins as something injurious. Direct or indirect contact with peanuts makes your immune system release symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream.
Exposure to peanuts may occur in several ways, including:
- Direct contact: The primary cause of peanut allergy is eating peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Often direct skin contact with peanuts can induce an allergic reaction.
- Cross-contact: This is the accidental introduction of peanuts into a product. It's usually the consequence of a food being exposed to peanuts during processing or handling.
- Inhalation: An allergic reaction can occur if you inhale aerosols dust comprising peanuts from a source like a peanut oil or peanut flour cooking spray.
What Are Signs And Symptoms Of Peanut Allergy?
An allergic response to peanuts generally occurs within minutes after exposure. Following are some of the common signs and symptoms of peanut allergies:
- Skin reactions, including hives, redness, or swelling
- Itching in or around the mouth and throat
- Breathing shortness or wheezing
- Runny nose
- Tightening of the throat
- Digestive issues, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting
Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening reaction
Peanut allergy is the primary common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that needs treatment with an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others), and a visit to the emergency room.
The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Swelling of the throat that makes it challenging to breathe
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness
- Rapid pulse
- Constriction of airways
- A severe drop in blood pressure (shock)
Who Is At A Risk For Peanut Allergies?
It isn't certain why some people have allergies while others don't. However, people with specific risk factors have an increased chance of developing a peanut allergy. The following factors increase the risk of developing peanut allergies:
- Age: Food allergies are increasingly common in children, specifically toddlers and infants. With growing age, your digestive system matures, and your body is unlikely to react to food that prompts allergies.
- Past allergy to peanuts: A few children with peanut allergy overcome it. However, even if you appear to have overcome peanut allergy, it can recur.
- Other allergies: If you are already allergic to one food, you can be at elevated risk of becoming allergic to another. Likewise, having some other type of allergy, such as hay fever, increases your risk of having a food allergy.
- Family members with allergies: You are at an elevated risk for peanut allergy if other allergies, particularly other types of food allergies, are prevalent in your family.
- Atopic dermatitis: Some people with a skin condition called atopic dermatitis (eczema) also have a food allergy.
Peanut Allergies Complications
Peanut allergy complications may include anaphylaxis. Children and adults who have an acute peanut allergy are particularly at significant risk of having this life-threatening reaction.
How Can You Prevent Peanut Allergies?
According to recent studies, there is strong evidence that introducing at-risk babies to peanuts as early as 4 - 6 months of age can minimize their risk of developing food allergies by about 80%. Babies at risk for peanut allergy include those with mild to severe eczema, egg allergy, or both. Before introducing your baby to peanuts, talk about the best possible alternative with your child's doctor.
The conversation you and your doctor have about your symptoms and medical history initiates the process of diagnosis. A physical exam generally follows this discussion. The further steps usually include one or more of the following:
Your healthcare provider may ask you to maintain a record of your eating habits, symptoms, and medications.
If it isn't evident that peanuts are responsible for your symptoms, or if your healthcare specialist thinks that you may have a reaction to more than one type of food, he or she can suggest an elimination diet. You will be asked to eliminate peanuts or other suspicious foods for a couple of weeks and then include the food items back into your diet one at a time. This method can help relate symptoms to specific foods. If you've had a serious reaction to foods, this technique can't safely be used.
A little amount of food is positioned on your skin, which is then pierced with a needle. If you are allergic to some specific substance, you develop an elevated bump or reaction.
A blood test can evaluate your immune system's response to specific foods by monitoring the amount of allergy-type antibodies present in your bloodstream, called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
Details from all these sources can help find out if you have a peanut allergy or if your symptoms are probably due to something else, like food intolerance.
While the conventional approach to treat peanut allergy is to avoid exposure, investigators continue to examine various therapies, such as oral immunotherapy.
Also called desensitization, oral immunotherapy incorporates providing children with peanut allergies, or those at risk of peanut allergies, raising doses of food comprising peanuts over time. Oral immunotherapy isn't a cure for peanut allergy. Instead, this kind of therapy is aimed to alleviate the risk of severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, that may occur with exposure to peanuts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, lately passed approval for the first oral immunotherapy drug, Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) Allergen Powder-dnfp (Palforzia), to cure children ages 4 - 17 years old with an approved peanut allergy. This drug isn't advised for people with unmatched asthma or specific conditions, such as eosinophilic esophagitis.
Moreover, as with any food allergy, treatment includes taking measures to prevent the foods that cause your reaction, realizing how to identify a reaction when it's happening, and being ready to react quickly, including keeping epinephrine on hand.
How To Be Prepared For A Reaction?
The only possible way to prevent a reaction is to avoid consuming peanuts and peanut products entirely. But peanuts are very common, and regardless of your best efforts, you are highly likely to come in contact to peanuts at some point.
For a severe allergic response, you may require an emergency injection of epinephrine and to visit the emergency room. Several people with allergies carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others). It is a syringe and concealed needle that introduces a single dose of medicine when pushed against your thigh.
How To Use An Autoinjector?
If your healthcare specialist has prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector:
- Keep it with you always: It might be a great idea to keep an extra autoinjector in your car and also at your work.
- Always change it before its expiration date: Out-of-date epinephrine might not work appropriately.
- Ask your doctor to recommend a backup autoinjector: If you misplace one, you will have a spare.
- Know how to handle it correctly: Ask your healthcare provider to guide you regarding its usage. Also, ensure the people closest to you know how to use it correctly - if someone with you can provide you a shot, he or she can save your life.
- Know when it's the time to use it: Talk to your healthcare provider about how to know when you require a shot. However, if you are not certain if you need a shot, it's generally better to get ahead and utilize the emergency epinephrine.