A life-threatening allergy in a nut shell
Peanut allergy is often a more severe allergy than many of the other common allergies. In fact, if you know someone who has a life-threatening allergy, it's very likely to be a nut or peanut allergy. In fact, the lowly peanut has gained the infamous reputation as the world's most allergenic food. The peanut isn't really a nut at all; it is a member of the legume family and is more closely related to a bean than a nut.
As many as 1 in 10 people today are diagnosed with a peanut allergy. The first sign of the allergy usually appears in childhood, most likely with the first taste of peanut butter.
Many if not all people who are diagnosed as allergic to the peanut will have an anaphylactic reaction. The anaphylactic reaction can start very quickly, and proceed from the first sign of reaction to a fatality in minutes, if untreated. This is the life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by:
- A feeling of apprehension or foreboding
- Facial symptoms, including hives, flushing, itchiness
- A sense of tightness in the chest, throat or mouth
- Progressive difficulties in swallowing or breathing, which could include drooling, wheezing, chocking or coughing
- Nasal symptoms such as a runny nose
- Changes in the voice
- Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, and stomach problems, such as nausea, vomiting or pain
- Systemic changes such as dizziness, fatigue, chills, increased heart rate
- Loss of color to the skin and loss of consciousness which can be followed by coma and death
This kind of allergy cannot be managed by immunotherapy. The only approach is rigid avoidance of the allergen, and preparation for a reaction. Most people with a serious peanut allergy will carry an Epi-pen with them to administer adrenaline immediately in the case of a reaction. This will allow the individual to remain as medically stable as possible, while seeking urgent medical care.
In most cases, this kind of allergy will necessitate knowing exactly what is in the food that you are eating, and careful avoidance of cross contamination. Reactions have been caused by something as innocent as a person eating peanut butter earlier in the day and then kissing the individual with the allergy. In fact, minute amounts of the allergen may be all that is required to trigger a reaction.
As a result, any trips to restaurants are likely to be fraught with potential danger. Individuals with this allergy should seek to eat only processed foods that certify that they are peanut-free. As more and more food companies recognize the severity and importance of "safe" food for those with allergies, more and more "peanut free" products are hitting the shelves.