Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. Peanut allergies affect 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That’s roughly two in every classroom. As a parent, those are scary statistics. The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend early introduction of peanuts to infants, even if peanut allergies run in the family. However, as the number of allergy cases continues to rise, many schools have gradually implemented “peanut bans” in order to protect all of their students from these health threats.
Peanuts and other food allergens can cause the body to go into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition where a person's blood pressure drops and his or her airways narrow. Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful. Direct or indirect contact with peanuts causes your immune system to release symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream.
Exposure to peanuts can occur in various ways:
- Direct contact. The most common cause of peanut allergy is eating peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Sometimes direct skin contact with peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction.
- Cross-contact. This is the unintended introduction of peanuts into a product. It's generally the result of a food being exposed to peanuts during processing or handling.
- Inhalation. An allergic reaction may occur if you inhale dust or aerosols containing peanuts, from a source such as peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray.
Peanut allergy signs and symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Skin reactions, such as hives, redness or swelling
- Itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat
- Digestive problems, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting
- Tightening of the throat
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
For a severe allergic reaction, your child may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and to visit the emergency room. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen or Twinject). This device is a syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against the thigh. It is recommended that any caretakers and children of appropriate age learn to use autoinjectors and practice on a regular basis. Formal allergy plans should be available for the school and at home.
If your child is allergic to nuts, or attends a school where a peanut ban is in place, you can try these nut-free alternatives:
- Sunflower seed butter
- Cookie butter
- Soynut Butter
- Coconut butter (my personal favorite)
Please be sure to contact your child’s health professional if you think they may have a peanut or other food allergy.