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Peanut Allergy: Causes & Treatment Information

  • Date: 2009/03/15 (Rev. 2016/03/23)
  • Francis Horrell
  • Synopsis : Explains what a peanut allergy is including causes anaphylactic shock and preventive measures to take for you and your children.

Main Document

A Peanut allergy is a disease which affects the body's immune system causing the body to often suffer symptoms after exposure to some of the proteins that are found in peanuts.

What is a Peanut Allergy

An allergic reaction to peanuts is now the most prevalent of allergies in the U.S. with over one and a half million suffering the condition. In fact the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that peanut allergy is the most common cause of food related deaths in the U.S.

A peanut allergy occurs when your body mistakenly identifies peanuts as harmful substances. An allergic reaction then occurs when your immune system overreacts and releases chemicals, including histamine, into your blood.

Peanut allergy often appears in the first years of life, and while many children outgrow allergies, most kids don't outgrow peanut allergy as they get older. An allergic reaction to peanuts can result in anaphylactic shock which can cause death. If untreated, anaphylactic shock can result in death due to obstruction of the upper or lower airway or hypotension and heart failure. This can occur within minutes to several hours after eating the peanuts. Symptoms of anaphylactic shock may include sneezing and tingling on the lips, tongue and throat followed by pallor, feeling unwell, warm and light headed. Severe reactions may sometimes return after an apparent resolution of 1 to 6 hours. Asthmatics with peanut sensitivity are much more likely to develop life threatening reactions to peanuts.

How do you know if you have a peanut allergy

Being allergic to peanuts is different from having a general nut allergy, the symptoms may be the same but a person with a peanut allergy might not have a nut allergy. However many doctors recommend that peanut allergy sufferers avoid tree nuts as a precaution.

Reactions can range from quite mild, like sneezing or coughing, however hey can also be extremely severe, with difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling of the lips, tongue, or other parts of the body, dizziness or loss of consciousness. Allergic reactions to peanuts usually occur within several minutes, but can take up to 4 hours to manifest.

You may experience some of the symptoms below shortly after digesting, breathing, or coming in contact with peanut allergens.

  • Stomach ache
  • Tightening of the throat
  • Itchy eyes
  • Hive like symptoms
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Hoarse voice
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Tingling tongue and/or lips.

Peanut allergies usually occur by:

  • Eating - The reaction occurs in the mouth, tongue, throat and/or the intestinal tract.
  • Breathing the peanut protein - Reaction usually occurs in the nose, and eyes.
  • Contact - Allergic reaction is usually swelling or itching of the contacted area(s).

Can I or my family be tested for peanut allergies

If your child has a peanut allergy, or you're an adult who has had a reaction, tell your doctor about it, as tests can be taken to confirm a peanut allergy, so you can take steps to avoid future and potentially worse reactions. Your doctor or physician can administer a skin test, where small needles prick your skin and expose you to very small amounts of peanut proteins. A positive result usually shows in the form of a small lump or hive, which most likely will confirm a peanut allergy. A blood test can also be taken to confirm peanut allergies.

For those who test positive or already have a peanut allergy some of the foods to avoid include:

  • Peanut butter
  • Asian foods - Satay etc.
  • Peanut flour
  • Ground or mixed nuts
  • Grain breads
  • Energy bars
  • Salad dressing
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pesto
  • Cereals
  • Bouillon
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Granola
  • Baked cookies
  • Pastries
  • Frozen desserts
  • Marzipan
  • Nougat
  • Peanut oil
  • Artificial nuts

Note: There are also peanut allergens that do not appear on this list.

Treating a peanut allergy

At present there is no full cure for allergic reactions to peanuts. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut proteins altogether.

Antihistamines - Available from your chemist or drug store can be taken after an allergic reaction to peanuts to help ward off more extreme reactions. However, antihistamines are not sufficient to treat severe, life-threatening reactions.

Epinephrine - Some peanut allergy sufferers carry a prescription only self injectable drug called Epinephrine.


Though severe peanut allergies are extremely uncommon, many parents want to know how to prevent them.

  • Read food labels carefully, and avoid foods that may have come in contact with peanuts.
  • Make sure your child's epinephrine auto-injector is always available.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.
  • Discourage your child from sharing foods.
  • Notify key people that your child has peanut allergy.
  • Affected children should never be without an EpiPen and someone who knows how to use it.

Recent data suggest that avoiding anti-reflux medications like Zantac, peanut containing diaper and breast creams, and soy-based formulas may be sensible for infants with a strong family history of peanut allergy.

The number of children around the world with allergies, including peanut allergy, is increasing. One theory is that children in cities, or those who live in strict hygiene conditions, are more likely to develop allergies than rural children, or children who play in the dirt and fields. This hygiene hypothesis proposes that children who are exposed to as more microbes or allergy causing substances as possible at an early age develop immune systems that are far more stronger and tolerant of many health conditions, allergies, and illnesses.

A carefully administered daily dose of peanuts has been so successful as a therapy for peanut allergies that a select group of children is now off treatment and eating peanuts daily, report doctors at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital - Children can Achieve Tolerance for Peanut Allergies

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