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The Problem With Peanuts

by Linda L. Osmundson

Matthew’s mother noticed a rash on his face after his sister kissed him. His sister had eaten a peanut butter sandwich. As suggested by doctors and baby books, his mom had held off exposing one-year-old Matthew to peanut butter or peanuts. As it turns out, the rash was a symptom of a peanut allergy.

Tests confirmed Matthew’s allergy to peanuts – those nuts, actually legumes, grown in the ground. Now Matthew’s family keeps an allergy kit equipped with a syringe of epinephrine on hand at home, within reach no matter where they are and at daycare. Imagine my fright when I babysat Matthew, my grandson, and his father showed me the allergy kit. If by some chance, my son explained, Matthew encountered a peanut in any form, I was to jab the needle into Matthew’s thigh immediately, release the epinephrine and then call 911.

Matthew’s tests indicated no positive responses to tree nuts. Although allergies to tree nuts such as cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, beechnuts, Brazil nuts, and pistachios are less common, a cross-reaction may occur.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates about 1.5 million people suffer allergic reactions to peanuts. Studies indicate an increase in childhood peanut allergies with no documentation of why. Recent national news media reported the death of a teenage girl after only kissing her boyfriend who had eaten peanuts. The Academy claims at least one hundred people die from food-related allergies a year.

Even if your children show no signs of peanut allergies, you need to recognize and be aware of them for the sake of another child’s life.

Peanut allergies are deadly. Other family-related allergies contribute to the development of peanut allergies in children. Unfortunately the allergy may not diminish as the child ages like other childhood problems. The child needs to avoid peanuts and peanut products for the rest of his life.

What Are The Symptoms?

We’ve already discovered kissing can trigger peanut allergenic reactions. Unlike other allergies, symptoms may appear after touching, smelling or eating peanuts or peanut products – even in very small amounts – quickly or several hours later.

The person may experience skin problems (swelling, hives, itchiness, redness), throat and breathing problems (hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath, swallowing difficulty, constant coughing), circulation problems (dizziness, low blood pressure, paleness, loss of pulse), gastrointestinal problems (stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).

The most severe reaction is anaphylactic shock which may include difficult breathing, a drop in blood pressure, chest or throat tightening, choking, loss of consciousness, and can lead to death.

What Can You Do?

First, even if your children are allergy free, be sure you are aware of any allergies a child guest in your home may possess. If peanuts are a problem, talk to the child’s parent. Make sure you understand the realities and seriousness of a peanut allergy. Ask the parent to recommend suitable menu items and restaurants.

Second, check labels of cans and packages. The ingredients section may not include that the item was processed in the same plant as a product with peanut proteins. Although not required by law, a few manufacturers state somewhere on the label that peanuts are processed in their factories. Be sure a restaurant’s equipment hasn’t touched peanut products without thorough cleaning before preparing food for the allergic child.

Third, learn hidden peanut products in foods — such as cakes, breakfast cereals, biscuits, pastries, ice cream, desserts, cereal bars, curry or satay sauces, candies, salad dressings, Chinese and Indonesian dishes, lupin flour found in pasta. Topical ointments can be dangerous also. If unsure, either don’t use or serve it (the easiest remedy) or call the parent or manufacturer.

The best treatment for peanut allergies is to remove all peanut products from the child’s diet and home.

Every person involved with the child should be made aware of the allergy – schools, daycares, clubs, babysitters, friends and family. Teach everyone the use of the allergy kit and emergency techniques.

Provide the child with a peanut allergy medical alert bracelet or necklace.

Monthly shots don’t ensure a cure but possibly allow limited contact without severe reaction to unknown exposure of peanuts or their products.

Peanuts represent both friend and foe. Even though we may consider baby book, doctor or magazine articles on peanut allergies something we don’t need, read, listen and take the precautions seriously. They may save the life of a child, a friend or even your own. •

from the July-August 2006 issue

Ask Your Doctor?
If you wonder about your children, ask the doctor these questions:

• How do I know if my child has an allergy to peanuts?
• Will you explain the differences between food intolerance and food allergy?
• What tests diagnose allergies?
• What over-the-counter medications relieve less serious allergies?
• Can allergies be cured and how?