One of the most common food allergies, peanut allergy is also one of the most potentially dangerous. Peanuts are among the foods most likely to cause anaphylaxis, and peanut allergies are on the rise. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) study, peanut allergies more than tripled in the United States between 1997 and 2008.
Unlike most other food allergies, which kids typically outgrow, peanut allergies are a lifelong condition—only about 20 percent of people with allergies to peanuts ever get rid of them. These allergies tend to run in families, with younger siblings of kids with peanut allergies at an increased risk of developing them, as well.
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Peanuts are a member of the legume family; other members include peas, lentils, and soy. Legumes differ from their cousins, the tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, and almonds), in that they grow in the ground. Although people with peanut allergies are no more likely to be allergic to other legumes, they are more likely to be allergic to tree nuts. Recent research shows that between 24 and 40 percent of people with peanut allergies also have tree nut allergies.
Symptoms of a peanut allergy may include hives; eczema; stomach cramps; diarrhea; vomiting; runny nose; sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; and asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. In its most severe form, peanut allergy can cause—within minutes—the sudden allergic reaction anaphylaxis.
Another reason peanut allergies are such a concern is that just a tiny amount of a nut can trigger a big reaction in sensitive people. If someone with a peanut allergy touches a surface where a peanut or some peanut butter sat and then touches his or her eyes, for example, it can be enough to set off a serious allergic reaction.
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Because trace amounts of peanuts can spark a severe response, and because peanuts can lurk in many unsuspecting foods, people with a peanut allergy—or any true food allergy—simply can't be too careful. If you have a severe food allergy, you should carry an EpiPen at all times, and make sure you and those around you know how to administer it and are prepared to use it at any time.
As a peanut allergy sufferer, you must also be vigilant about reading food labels. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires all foods containing peanuts that are sold in the United States to list the word "peanut" clearly on the label. However, keep in mind that the use of the phrase "may contain pea- nuts" is voluntary, so you still need to know what you're eating.
It's also important to be aware of foods and ingredients that may contain peanuts. These include the following:
- Artificial nuts
- Baked goods
- Egg rolls
- Glazes and marinades
- Mandelonas (peanuts soaked in almond flavoring)
- Pet food
- Specialty pizzas