Here's all you need to know about peanut allergies, how to spot signs of an allergic reaction, and the remedies for them.
Oh, nuts! They may be a great snack, but unfortunately, some kids (and adults) can develop an allergic reaction to peanuts. And that’s no good! Peanut allergies have become increasingly common with kids nowadays. So much so that many schools now ban anything with peanuts from being served in the canteen as a preventive measure. But how do kids end up with this ailment? Is there any way to treat a peanut allergy? Read on to find out more about this common allergy.
All you need to know about peanut allergies
The lowdown on peanut allergies
In medical terms, a peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies the proteins in peanuts as something harmful. Not-so-fun fact: up to three per cent of children suffer from an allergic reaction from peanuts. Yikes!
FYI, peanuts are not tree nuts but legumes, meaning they are in the same family as soybeans, peas and lentils. Tree nuts refer to nuts and seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. Because legumes and tree nuts have similar proteins, children who are allergic to peanuts may be allergic to tree nuts too. Double yikes!
Apart from consuming peanut or peanut-containing foods, peanut allergies can also be triggered by direct skin contact with peanuts and inhaling dust or aerosols from sources that contain peanuts, such as peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray (yes parents, it’s a thing!).
How to spot the signs of an allergic reaction from peanuts
An allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure and lasts for up to several hours after eating. Typically, kids with peanut allergies will only have mild to moderate reactions. Signs and symptoms of such a reaction can include:
- Skin reactions such as hives, rashes or welts
- Tingling feeling in or around the mouth
- Digestive problems such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps and/or vomiting
In more serious cases, a peanut allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a sudden and life-threatening allergic reaction. Signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction can include any of the above mentioned as well as the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing and/or persistent coughing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Tightness of the throat
- Dizziness or loss of consciousness
Should an allergic reaction take place, your child may not be able to properly describe what they are feeling. So parents, listen out for any of these phrases:
- “My mouth itches/tingles”
- “My mouth/throat feels funny”
- “Something is stuck in my throat”
- “My tongue feels bumpy”
- “My tongue is hot/burning”
Very young children may also pull or scratch at their ears and/or tongue, show an increase in drooling, or sound different. Call an ambulance immediately if your little one has a severe reaction to peanuts, especially if they display any anaphylactic signs or symptoms.
What to do if your child has a reaction to peanuts
If it is the first time your kid reacts to peanuts, it is advisable to take them to an allergy specialist, who will ask a series of questions to find the cause of the allergy. These questions will help to rule out other conditions that can sometimes be confused with food allergies. Your child may also be required to undergo a blood test or a skin prick test. Sometimes, additional testing may be done to see if kiddo is allergic to other foods.
International Medical Clinic (IMC) will be launching their Allergy Testing Clinic for children at its Camden and Katong branches in February 2022. A skin prick test will be administered on your child, where amounts of the allergens – in this case, proteins in peanuts – are introduced to the upper layers of the skin to test for an allergy. This is one of the safest testing procedures, and is well tolerated by children. Besides that, you don’t need to wait too long as results are observable after 15 minutes. The results will be read and interpreted by IMC’s doctors and a management plan will be created for your child – all within the same day! Should there be a possibility where peanuts isn’t the allergen, the clinic will be able to test for environmental (eg. dust, mould, etc.) and other food allergies as well.
Once it has been determined that your child has a peanut allergy, the doctor will prepare an action plan. An action plan outlines the recommended treatment in case of an allergic reaction. Be certain to understand the plan well and ask if there is anything you’re unsure of. If your child has been diagnosed as having a severe reactions to nuts, they will need to have a self-injectable epinephrine device, such as EpiPen or Auvi-Q, with them at all times.
Are there any ways to prevent a peanut allergy or reaction?
There is currently no treatment to prevent a peanut allergy. Thus, the most important thing is to avoid allergy-triggering foods. Other steps that you can take are:
1. Check food labels carefully
Some foods may not contain nuts but are made in factories that make other items that do contain nuts (this is known as ‘cross contamination’). Look out for mentions like “may contain nuts” and “produced on shared equipment with peanuts or tree nuts”.
2. Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to tell the restaurant staff about your child’s allergy and ask questions about the ingredients being used in the dishes. We’re sure the staff will be more than happy to assist!
3. Be prepared
Create a list of foods your kid cannot eat (and those that they can) and a plan on handling a reaction (just in case!) and share thois list with schools and family friends.
Contrary to “popular belief”, a child’s peanut allergy cannot be triggered by a classmate eating a peanut sandwich across the table. It doesn’t work that way, folks! That said, younger children do need to be monitored so they don’t share foods accidentally. Wash hands with soap and water and sanitise eating areas after meals so that even a smudge of peanut butter doesn’t accidentally get transferred to a child with an allergy.
How to safely introduce peanuts to your little one
According to recent studies, introducing babies as early as four to six months of age to peanuts may reduce their risk of developing food allergies, unless your child is at high risk. ‘High risk’ kids include those with mild to severe eczema, egg allergy, or both.
What about babies with no risk? Bring on the peanuts! (Just make sure it’s not a whole nut, as this can be a choking hazard.) Mix up a minuscule amount of peanut product mixed in with baby puree or another food that bubba has been eating regularly, and wait for at least 15 minutes. If your kid doesn’t exhibit any symptoms, proceed with normal serving size. You may refer to these instructions created by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for more details.
Peanut allergies can seem very scary, but there’s nut-hing to fear if you’re clued up and prepared. You’ve got this, parents!
Top image: Afif Kusuma via Unsplash