What is a Peanut allergy?
The world is nuts about peanuts. Our love and use of the peanut spreads far and wide, with the legume being squeezed to make cooking oil, blended to make butter, and even milled into a fine powder to use as a food thickener. Its use isn’t just limited to the kitchen either, also being used as a common ingredient in cosmetics, paints, and even household plastics.
Whilst the peanut might be useful, for those with a peanut allergy, it’s exactly the nut’s multi-talented nature that makes it such a problem. Allergy sufferers may find it incredibly difficult to avoid symptoms being triggered, and in severe cases some may not even be able to be in the same room as something containing peanut.
But what exactly are the symptoms of peanut allergy, and how are they triggered? If you’re worried you or someone else might suffer from the problem, take a look below at our guide to peanut allergy.
What is a peanut allergy?
A peanut allergy is an allergic reaction caused either directly or by, or substances containing peanut. An allergy to peanuts is different from an allergy to nuts, as – contrary to the name – the peanut is actually a legume, in the same family as beans and lentils.
For sufferers of peanut allergies, contact with peanuts causes an immune system response. This is because whilst for most people peanuts are harmless, for allergy sufferers the nut contains a protein recognised as an allergen.
This allergen is wrongly viewed as a threat by the body and, as such, the immune system responds in a number of ways to combat this threat. One of these ways is the release of histamine, a substance that causes tissues within the body to swell and that is responsible for most of the symptoms of peanut allergy.
What are the causes of peanut allergy?
Whilst much research has been carried out into the underlying causes of peanut allergy, no definite answer has been found. However, it is known that the problem most often develops during childhood and lasts through adulthood, an estimate of 20% of sufferers growing out of a peanut allergy.
Whilst not the most commonly occurring cause of allergy, peanuts are one of the most common causes of severe allergic reactions. This means that for many people, coming in contact with a food or item containing just traces of peanut can cause a reaction to occur. Even peanut dust can trigger a response.
What are the symptoms of peanut allergy?
Some of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to peanuts are listed below:
- Itchy skin
- Swelling of the face
- An itching sensation in the mouth and/or throat
- Sudden runny or congested nose
- A tight feeling in the throat
Although varying from person to person, symptoms are often exhibited soon after encountering traces of peanut, and can sometimes be immediate. The variety of symptoms suffered can also depend on the individual and the severity of the allergy, and it’s also common for a person to suffer completely different symptoms on different occasions.
How do I treat peanut allergy?
If you think you or somebody else might be allergic to peanuts, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. Although relatively rare, severe reactions can be fatal, and as such it’s always best for symptoms to be tackled immediately.
For a diagnosis of a peanut allergy you would be questioned about your symptoms and history of reaction to peanuts, in order to determine if they may be the potential trigger. A skin prick or blood test may be carried out to help with a diagnosis.
If it turns out that you do have a peanut allergy, you may be given medication such as an antihistamine to take in the event that you come in contact with peanuts. If your GP thinks you may be at risk of suffering from anaphylactic shock, you could also be prescribed an epinephrine pen.
How is peanut allergy managed?
As with most allergies, the best form of management is to avoid the trigger where possible. Combined with preventative medication, many people can avoid symptoms by simply not eating peanuts.
As peanuts are so prevalent in the food industry, avoiding them can seem difficult. However, in Europe moves have been made to make it easier for allergy sufferers to identify potential trigger foods. It’s now a legal requirement for food producers, restaurants, cafes and takeaways to label for allergens, so make sure to always read labels or ask if you’re unsure about the ingredients of a food.
Is peanut intolerance the same as peanut allergy?
There are a number of key differences between peanut allergy and intolerance.
Whilst peanut allergy symptoms occur almost immediately, the symptoms of peanut intolerance can take hours or even days to occur. This is because peanut intolerance symptoms are only triggered by eating the food, thus the effects occur after digestion. Symptoms can be similar to those of allergy, and some of the most common are listed below:
- Itchy skin
Again, while peanut allergy has the potential to be fatal, peanut intolerance does not, and anaphylaxis is not a symptom of food intolerance. However, sufferers of intolerance can still experience discomfort.
What should I do if I think I have a peanut intolerance?
If you think you might be intolerant to peanuts, you should go and see your doctor first to eliminate the possibility of allergy. Once allergy is ruled out, a simple food intolerance test, such as the YorkTest Food&DrinkScan Programme, could help to find out whether any foods are a potential trigger for you.