Peanut allergy can be serious. Find out what you need to know to prevent a life-threatening reaction, and get the latest on treatment approaches.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks. For some people with peanut allergy, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause a serious reaction that can even be life-threatening (anaphylaxis).
Peanut allergy has been increasing in children. Even if you or your child has had only a mild allergic reaction to peanuts, it's important to talk to your doctor. There is still a risk of a more serious future reaction.
An allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure. Peanut allergy signs and symptoms can include:
Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that requires treatment with an epinephrine (adrenaline) autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others) and a trip to the emergency room.
Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms can include:
Talk to your doctor if you have had any signs or symptoms of peanut allergy.
Seek emergency treatment if you have a severe reaction to peanuts, especially if you have any signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you or someone else displays severe dizziness, severe trouble breathing or loss of consciousness.
Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful. Direct or indirect contact with peanuts causes your immune system to release symptom-causing chemicals into your bloodstream.
Exposure to peanuts can occur in various ways:
It isn't clear why some people develop allergies while others don't. However, people with certain risk factors have a greater chance of developing peanut allergy.
Peanut allergy risk factors include:
Complications of peanut allergy can include anaphylaxis. Children and adults who have a severe peanut allergy are especially at risk of having this life-threatening reaction.
According to recent studies, there is strong evidence that introducing at-risk babies to peanuts as early as 4 to 6 months of age may reduce their risk of developing food allergies by up to 80%. Babies at risk for peanut allergy include those with mild to severe eczema, egg allergy, or both. Before introducing your baby to peanuts, discuss the best approach with your child's doctor.
The discussion you and your doctor have about your symptoms and medical history starts the process of diagnosis. A physical exam usually follows this discussion. The next steps typically include some of the following:
Information from all these sources may help determine if you have a peanut allergy or if your symptoms are likely due to something else, such as food intolerance.
While the standard approach to care for peanut allergy is to avoid exposure, researchers continue to study different therapies, including oral immunotherapy.
Also known as desensitization, oral immunotherapy involves giving children with peanut allergies, or those at risk of peanut allergies, increasing doses of food containing peanuts over time. Oral immunotherapy is not a cure for peanut allergy. Rather, this type of therapy is intended to reduce the risk of severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, that could occur with exposure to peanuts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first oral immunotherapy drug, Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) Allergen Powder-dnfp (Palforzia), to treat children ages 4 to 17 years old with a confirmed peanut allergy. This medication isn't recommended for people with uncontrolled asthma or certain conditions, including eosinophilic esophagitis.
In addition, as with any food allergy, treatment involves taking steps to avoid the foods that cause your reaction, knowing how to spot a reaction when it's happening and being prepared to respond quickly, including keeping epinephrine on hand.
The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid peanuts and peanut products altogether. But peanuts are common, and despite your best efforts, you're likely to come into contact with peanuts at some point.
For a severe allergic reaction, you may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and to visit the emergency room. Many people with allergies carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others). This device is a syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh.
If your doctor has prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector:
One of the keys to preventing an allergic reaction is knowing how to avoid the food that causes your symptoms. Follow these steps:
Never assume that a food doesn't contain peanuts. Peanuts may be in foods that you had no idea contained them. Always read labels on manufactured foods to make sure they don't contain peanuts or peanut products. Manufactured foods are required to clearly state whether foods contain any peanuts and if they were produced in factories that also process peanuts.
Even if you think you know what's in a food, check the label. Ingredients may change.
Peanuts are common, and avoiding foods that contain them can be a challenge. The following foods often contain peanuts:
Some foods that may contain peanuts or peanut proteins — either because they were made with them or because they came in contact with them during the manufacturing process — are less obvious. Some examples include:
If your child has peanut allergy, take these steps to help keep him or her safe:
Involve caregivers. Ask relatives, babysitters, teachers and other caregivers to help. Teach the adults who spend time with your child how to recognize signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to peanuts. Emphasize that an allergic reaction can be life-threatening and requires immediate action.
Make sure that your child also knows to ask for help right away if he or she has an allergic reaction.
If you have peanut allergy, do the following:
To get the most from your appointment, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
If your child is seeing the doctor for a peanut allergy, you may also want to ask:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
If you suspect that you have a peanut allergy, avoid exposure to peanuts until your doctor's appointment. If you have a severe reaction, seek emergency help.