Food allergies are becoming an increasingly common issue that parents and children have to deal with. One of the most common — and most deadly — food allergies is an allergy to peanuts. We’ve compiled all of the information that parents need to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of peanut allergies as well as some steps on how to make life safer with an allergic child.
What is Peanut Allergy?
An allergic reaction to a food such as peanuts is caused by an overreaction of the body’s immune system to specific proteins in the food. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can even become life-threatening. A suspected peanut allergy is usually confirmed through allergy testing, including skin prick testing and blood testing.
Symptoms of Peanut Allergy
Signs of an allergic reaction in children can be mild or severe and may include:
- Hives or welts
- Swelling of the face
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Tingling lips, mouth, tongue, or throat
- Stomach pain
Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction that requires emergency medical attention. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include:
- Difficulty breathing or talking
- Wheezing or persistent coughing
- Swelling of the tongueand/or tightness in the throat
- Loss of consciousness, dizziness, or fainting
- Pale skinor blue lips
- Becoming floppy (infants/young children)
- Weak pulse
- Drop in blood pressure
When in doubt, call for emergency assistance or administer your child’s medication.
Causes of Peanut Allergies
While there is no definitive cause of peanut allergy, it is suspected that a peanut allergy can be hereditary, meaning it is passed down from parents to their children.
In addition, there has been conflicting research on whether or not the early introduction of peanuts to babies has any correlation to the development of peanut allergies. However, current guidelines suggest that there is no reason to delay giving your baby foods (such as peanuts) that are known to be common allergens.
It seems that in many cases, developing an allergy is just due to “luck of the draw,” although a family history of allergies and eczema can increase your little one’s risk.
Treatment of Peanut Allergy
Parents of kids who develop food allergies will need to keep a variety of treatment options on hand in order to assist their children in the event of an allergic reaction or anaphylactic emergency. These treatment options include:
- Oral allergy medication (such as Benadryl)
- Topical allergy creams
- Injectable epinephrine
The first line of defense for a mild allergic reaction is usually a dose of oral allergy medication, while the immediate treatment for a severe or anaphylactic reaction is a dose of injectable epinephrine via a device commonly known as an EpiPen.
Contact your child’s doctor if you’d like to further discuss the various treatment options.
Living with a Peanut Allergy
The most important thing parents can do is educate themselves and their children on the realities of living life with a food allergy. This includes learning how to read food labels, use allergy treatments and medications, and exercise self-control in situations where an allergen is offered (such as at a birthday party where parents are not present).
In the United States, all food labels must disclose the presence of the most common allergens, including peanuts. Some children who have an extreme sensitivity to peanuts will not even be able to eat products that have been made on the same assembly lines as peanuts. This is known as cross-contamination and should also be disclosed on food packaging. Lastly, eating out at restaurants may require a bit of diligence to ensure that foods are not cooked in peanut oil or with any other peanut-based ingredients.
Your child’s doctor should write them an allergy action plan to be filed at their school in case of an emergency, and you will likely need to obtain medication and an EpiPen for them to keep on campus as well.
If you suspect that your child has an allergy to peanuts or any other food, please schedule an office visit today to discuss your options for treatment and prevention.