Is A Peanut Allergy Fatal?

While peanuts contain healthy fats, proteins, and vitamins and are beneficial for some people, they possess the potential to kill others. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), almost 2.5% of American children suffer from peanut allergies. There has been a 21% rise in peanut allergies in the past decade.

Symptoms of a Peanut Allergy

A peanut allergy may display itself through mild reactions or severe symptoms like anaphylaxis, which can be fatal to health if not treated immediately.

Some mild peanut allergy symptoms include:

  • A tingling sensation or itching in the mouth or throat
  • A congested or runny nose
  • Hives, a condition described by red splotches or bumps on the skin
  • Nausea

Some other peanut allergy symptoms that should alert you include:

  • The skin swells up or becomes red
  • The tongue, lips, and face swell up
  • The nasal passages become congested
  • Abdominal or stomach pain
  • Watery or red eyes
  • Constrained breathing
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or other stomach problems
  • An unpleasant feeling or confusion

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction mainly caused due to food allergies. It causes the immune system to release a surge of chemicals that lead the entire body into shock. It leads to difficulty breathing as the blood pressure drops and the air passages tighten.

Peanut allergy symptoms that link to anaphylaxis include:

  • Skin reactions such as hives that can cause itching
  • The skin becomes pale and flushed
  • Since the air passages become narrowed, the tongue and throat swell up
  • Feeling nauseous, diarrhea or vomiting
  • A weak pulse
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Vertigo or unconsciousness

An anaphylactic reaction stops your heart and breathing, and thus it may be fatal. You need to go to the emergency room as soon as possible. An epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector is injected into your body and controls the allergy symptoms.

Some people suffer from a delayed anaphylactic reaction if their peanut allergy is severe. They might even suffer from it if they don’t get epinephrine or only receive a small dose. It usually occurs 15 hours after the first treatment. According to a study 2 percent of the people treated for an allergic reaction in emergency rooms had delayed anaphylaxis.

Allergy specialist

Causes

There are many reasons why you might get a peanut allergy.

Genetics

A peanut allergy may be genetic. Especially infants that have eczema (atopic dermatitis) and have a family history of peanut allergies might be at risk of it.

Direct Contact

The most common reason is the result of direct contact. When you consume peanuts or eat food containing peanuts, it triggers an allergic reaction. Such foods contain cookies, ice cream, chocolates, granola bars, cereal, and salads. Some foods, such as popcorn, may not contain peanuts but might have been fried in peanut oil. So if you are allergic to peanuts, always check if your food has them or read the ingredients label.

Indirect or Cross-contact

It might be hard to believe, but you might get a peanut allergy just because you came in contact with peanut dust or used a jar that held peanuts earlier. That is known as indirect or cross-contact allergy.

Other Causes

You may inhale peanut dust from peanut flour or an aerosol or sprays that contain peanut oil. Certain vitamins and skin care products such as sunscreen, creams, and cosmetics may contain peanut proteins. You may even find it in toy stuffing or pet food. Hence, be careful at all times. If your peanut allergy is severe, it is best to carry an epinephrine auto-injector for an emergency.

Peanut allergies are commonly found in children since as you grow older, your immune system gets stronger and adapts, so you may outgrow the allergy. Around 20% of people with peanut allergies eventually outgrow it. However, it may come back once you are older. If you are vulnerable to other allergies, the risk of having a peanut allergy is higher too.

Diagnosing a Peanut Allergy

You must discuss your symptoms with your doctor so they can diagnose the peanut allergy. Furthermore, they may carry out some steps to confirm it. The physician may ask you to track all your dietary habits and the symptoms you experience and maintain a record of them. In this way, he/she may understand what food is causing what symptoms. They may also ask you to remove certain foods from your diet to figure out if the symptoms continue to appear. That is sometimes known as an elimination diet. Yes, you might have to cut down on the peanut butter!

If the doctor suspects a peanut allergy, you will be prescribed some tests, including:

Skin Tests

The doctor places a small amount of a food substance on your skin, and a needle is pricked onto it to observe how the skin reacts. If you are allergic to the food, your skin will swell up or show some other reaction, such as redness or itchiness.

Blood Tests

For example, immunocap radioallergosorbent (RAST) checks the antibody count in your body. Since an allergy triggers the production of antibodies, a higher number of antibodies (immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies) in the blood indicate you might have an allergy.

Treatment and Prevention

There is no specific preventative measure for peanut allergies.

Apart from avoiding contact with peanuts, or peanut-containing products, researchers have come up with some therapies. In oral immunotherapy, for example, children are given high doses of peanuts at an early age, so they become immune to it. That is why it is also known as desensitization. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases introducing peanuts into children’s diets as early as possible (figuratively 4 to 6 months) is beneficial, especially in infants who suffer from other food allergies or eczema.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) suggests that pregnant women remove peanuts from their diets as there is a link between others who consume peanuts and their children developing peanut allergies.

Of course, you should always stay prepared for an allergic reaction. No matter how hard you avoid them, you will find yourself exposed to peanuts at some point. So try your best to stay away, and if you have a reaction, get help. Do not just carry an epinephrine auto-injector, but also learn how and when to use it and replace it if expired.

Should I Rush to the Doctor?

If you see mild peanut allergy symptoms, set an appointment with a doctor that will help you diagnose your allergy and help you treat it. However, if you face more severe symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, or feeling dizzy, then rush to the emergency room immediately.

If you carry an epinephrine auto-injector and have an anaphylactic reaction, administer it immediately. However, go to the emergency room later on as you may get a delayed reaction.

See Also: Shellfish Allergy Testing, Treatment, and Prognosis: A Guideline

We offer allergy tests at Family Medicine Austin and our trained technicians can help you devise the perfect treatment plan for it. According to a study, 23 of 36 children tested showed peanut allergy symptoms. A peanut allergy might be lethal, so if you or any of your loved ones show any symptoms of a peanut allergy, do not wait until it is too late and book an appointment.

Family Medicine Austin

Written by Jeannette

I am Jeannette, the medical writing specialist here at Family Medicine Austin. I have over five years of experience working with a range of medical and healthcare across the U.S.