In recent years, the presence of life-threatening peanut allergies has increased by leaps and bounds. “Peanut-free Classroom” and “Peanut-free Lunchroom” are becoming household phrases as extra precautions are taken to ensure the safety and well being of all students. Something as small as a fleck of peanut dust or a piece of food cooked in peanut oil can send individuals with peanut allergies into a full-fledged array of symptoms, ranging from itching and hives to all-out anaphylactic shock.
Peanut allergies arouse more symptoms than most other food allergies, often beginning with a tingling sensation that creeps into the mouth and the lips, sometimes followed by facial swelling and wheezing. Itching, hives and a feeling of warmth are also common indicators of a reaction. Other typical allergy symptoms such as cough, itchy throat, nasal symptoms, colicky pain, abdominal pain and nausea also occur within minutes of contact or ingestion. Another common symptom is Erythema, or reddening of the skin.
Of highest concern, anaphylactic shock occurs in serious cases, causing difficulty breathing, asthma, swollen throat, and/or a drop in blood pressure. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction to sometimes even the smallest traces of an allergen, causing excessive swelling to the throat and obstructed breathing, which necessitates immediate medical attention. If not treated, collapse and unconsciousness have also happened as a response to the peanut allergy aggravation.
For those with peanut allergies, consuming peanut products or foods cooked with peanut products is comparable to ingesting toxins. In these individuals’ bodies, an enzyme does not exist to properly break down and digest the proteins contained in peanuts. This causes the body to react as if the peanuts were poison.
Suspicions exist as to whether consumption of peanuts and peanut products by pregnant mothers increases a child’s chances of being born with a peanut allergy. No substantial evidence can advise on this issue, but it is suggested that those at-risk (i.e.-those with an immediate family member who is allergic) refrain from peanuts and peanut products while pregnant and if breast-feeding. Also, it is important to avoid exposing an at-risk child to peanuts and products made from peanuts until at least three years of age.
Even when presence of a fatal peanut allergy is not 100% certain, it is important to be vigilant about checking certain foods for peanut ingredients before eating or serving to those with allergies. Items such as pastries and baked goods like cakes and cookies are especially prone to containing nuts. It is better to check into the contents prior to taking even the smallest bite. Cereals, crackers, ice creams, candy, health bars and granola bars also pose the possibility of containing nuts, and Oriental dishes often contain nuts or cook in peanut oils. When dining in a restaurant, it is perfectly acceptable to make your allergy known to your server in order to ensure the most cautious care.
Problems also arise when companies produce food products on the same machines or in the same work area. If a company produces candy with nuts and without nuts, there is always the dangerous possibility that a crumb or a tiny bit of the nut could find its way into the packaging of another product. Furthermore, those with peanut allergies may also face problems when someone in the same room has consumed peanut products. Even just opening a jar of peanut better or a can of peanuts may be enough to agitate the symptoms of someone who is highly allergic.
Another concern comes into play if you are dating someone with a peanut allergy or if your child is allergic. When you share meals or prepare baked goodies, avoidance of peanut products is critical. Holidays bring pounds and pounds of sweets and treats that could be brimming with hidden bits of peanuts in the crust, in the filling and in the toppings. By the way, there IS a wrong way to eat a Reese’s… if someone you love is allergic to peanuts! The bottom line: be careful if anyone you know has a peanut allergy.
So once you or someone you know have been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, what is there to do? Sometimes encounters occur without any notice or warning, and immediate actions must be taken to alleviate the problem. A device known as the Epipen provides the body with a life-saving injection of adrenaline to combat the toxins of the ingested peanuts (or other allergens). Emergency medical attention is often required for severe allergic reactions. If you know you will be around someone with a peanut allergy, simply take the extra time to safeguard him or her from any risky encounters. Avoidance of peanuts and peanut products altogether is the best precaution you can take, and vigilance in this matter is invaluable.
Tips for living with a peanut allergy:
– Always check ingredient lists before consuming foods / serving foods to those with allergies.
– If you have young children with allergies, it is best to keep the products out of the house or locked up to prevent accidental ingestion.
– When ordering in a restaurant, ask to find out if the ingredients include peanuts or peanut oil, peanut flour or other peanut products.
– Keep an Epipen and emergency contact numbers close at hand, and be sure you have quick access to a phone in case of an emergency.
– Be cautious at all times. The extra minute or two you spend to avoid taking chances could be all it takes to save a live!