Avoiding the Side Effects of Peanut Allergies. Part 1


Ten years ago, when she was a teen-ager living in San Diego, Susan (not her real name) planned to go out with friends when she finished her shift at a local gift shop. On her way out, she bought a cookie at a nearby store. By the time she met her friends outside, her tongue and throat had swollen up and she could barely breathe.

Susan knew exactly what was happening — she was suffering an acute allergic reaction to peanuts in the cookie.

Susan, who had already been diagnosed with a peanut allergy at the time of her reaction, is one of the estimated 3 million Americans with peanut allergies, one of the most dangerous known food allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Like many other food allergies, peanut allergies are a result of the immune system’s abnormal response to proteins in peanuts. The body reacts by flooding the system with histamines and other chemicals to fight off the perceived invader, according to the Food Allergy Network.

Peanut Allergy Symptoms
Allergic reactions to peanuts range from almost nonexistent to severe. “Symptoms from peanut allergies vary, from simply eating something with peanuts and getting indigestion to in the extreme case, suffering from shock, or anaphylaxis, which can be fatal,” said Dean Metcalfe, M.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. “In between it runs the gamut from hives to lung constriction to a low blood pressure to nausea.” Other symptoms can include watering eyes; swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat; abdominal cramps; diarrhea; vomiting; and serious breathing difficulties, according to the Food Allergy Network.

Reactions tend to happen quickly, according to Dr. Bernard Crosby of Allergy and Asthma Associates, PLC, in Austin, Texas. “A severe reaction usually happens within minutes,” he said. “Most people with peanut allergies can bite into a cookie with peanuts and they’ll know right away that they’re having a reaction.”

Among food allergies, “peanuts are the leading cause of severe allergic reactions,” said Anne Mu?oz-Furlong, founder and president of the Food Allergy Network. “Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts is one of the leading causes of fatal and near-fatal food-induced allergic reactions,” she said.

Besides being one of the most severe food allergies, peanut allergy is also one of the fastest growing in the United States, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In a random digit dial telephone survey conducted by Mu?oz-Furlong, Scott H. Sicherer, M.D., A. Wesley Burks, M.D., and Hugh A. Sampson, M.D., the researchers found that allergies to peanuts and tree nuts appear to be increasing in prevalence.

“Peanut allergies today are generally considered to be the most common and produce the most serious adverse reaction to foods [out of all food allergies],” Metcalfe said. Metcalfe notes that this is true in the United States, where consumption of peanuts and peanut products tends to be greater than in other countries.

Compounding the issue is the fact that peanut allergies do not usually go away with age, as many other types of food allergies do, according to the AAAAI’s Allergy and Asthma Disease Management Center. As a result, peanut allergies are a lifelong concern for a growing number of Americans.

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