Peanut Allergy

Overview

A peanut allergy is a food allergy to peanuts, which is distinct from a general nut allergy. It is a very common allergy that can cause mild to severe symptoms, or even death, after exposure to peanuts. Peanut allergy is most often seen in children and people with a family history of food allergies. The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut products.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

If someone is allergic to peanuts, symptoms will appear within a few minutes after exposure. Some people may only have a mild reaction with itching in or around the throat or mouth. Other possible symptoms include hives and skin redness or swelling, digestive problems such as cramps or diarrhea, throat tightening, shortness of breath, and runny nose. In severe cases, exposure to peanuts can result in anaphylaxis, a serious reaction that causes airway constriction, throat swelling, rapid pulse, dizziness, and a sudden drop in blood pressure (shock). Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care.

An allergy specialist can diagnose a peanut allergy, often based on symptoms alone. If a patient isn’t sure which food is causing a reaction, an elimination diet and using a food diary can help to pinpoint the cause. Sometimes allergists will do a skin test to see if the body reacts to peanut protein; an itchy, raised bump will appear if there is an allergy. Blood tests may also be used to measure antibodies released in response to a particular food. The doctor will also need to confirm that there is a peanut allergy, and not a peanut intolerance. People with a peanut intolerance are able to eat peanuts with only mild digestive symptoms, instead of an immune response.

Causes

In people with peanut allergies, the body does not recognize peanuts as regular food. Instead, the body sees peanut proteins as harmful and releases antibodies to attack them as it would against an infection. One of these antibodies is a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes the physical reaction that someone has after exposure to peanut proteins. It is not clear what exactly causes the body to do this. Someone can have an allergic reaction by eating peanuts or foods that contain peanut proteins or by touching a peanut product. Breathing in dust or sprays that contain peanuts can also cause a reaction. Children, people with a family history of food allergies, and people with other types of allergies have a higher risk of developing a peanut allergy. People with atopic dermatitis may also be more prone to food allergies. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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