Whether at the grocery store, restaurant or school, there's no escaping it these days: mentions of food allergies are ubiquitous.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Exact figures are hard to come by, but around 1% of the population is estimated to suffer from some degree of allergy.
What are the symptoms of peanut allergy?
Whatever the allergen and the quantity consumed, an allergic reaction to peanuts causes symptoms, such as red or itchy skin, tingling or numbness in the mouth or throat, shortness of breath, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and other digestive disorders. The most severe and dreaded type of allergic reaction is anaphylactic shock, which causes severe respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms. Anaphylactic shock can even be fatal. Symptoms appear rapidly after consumption.
Paying attention to a child's reactions is important because although the symptoms are the same, some children will express their discomfort differently. Younger children may put their hands to their mouths or stick out their tongues. Children of talking age might say things like "My tongue feels big" or "It stings in my throat."
Which foods should be avoided?
The basic treatment for peanut allergy is avoidance. This means avoiding all contact with foods containing peanuts. This is much easier said than done, as peanuts or peanut by-products can be found in many foods. Be sure to read food labels carefully. Peanuts are sometimes referred to by other names, such as peanut, mandelona, mani, etc. However, in Canada, by regulation, the term "peanut" must be used by manufacturers to avoid serious consequences. In many cases, there is even a logo on safe foods. Manufacturers sometimes indicate "contains peanuts" or "may contain peanuts." In the first case, peanuts are present in the food's ingredients. In the second case, peanuts are not in the ingredients but may have come into contact with them during manufacturing. It is, therefore, important to differentiate between the two terms. If someone suffers from a severe peanut allergy that can lead to anaphylactic shock, they should avoid all foods containing peanuts, including foods cooked in peanut oil.
Unless a test has revealed another allergy, avoiding foods other than peanuts, such as nuts is unnecessary. You need to be careful with processed foods, however, as nuts often also contain peanuts. Moreover, even if peanuts are legumes, there's no need to avoid other legumes in your diet—unless your allergist advises you otherwise.
When should peanuts be introduced to a child?
It is now recommended not to wait before introducing peanuts to babies. Delaying the introduction could increase the risk of allergy. From now on, it is recommended to introduce peanuts as soon as a child begins to eat, i.e. around 6 months of age.
Even if one parent is allergic or the child suffers from eczema, introducing peanuts should not be delayed. Of course, if you have any concerns, you can discuss them with your healthcare professional.
A simple way to introduce peanuts to a child's menu is by adding creamy peanut butter to meals.
What to do in the event of an allergic reaction
Administration of an antihistamine may reduce allergy symptoms. In cases of severe anaphylactic shock, an epinephrine injection will be necessary. After the injection, it is critical to go to the emergency room to be assessed by a health professional, even if symptoms have subsided.
Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions about the epinephrine injection device.
Is a peanut allergy for life?
A peanut allergy is estimated to resolve itself in around 20% of cases. Discuss strategies with your allergist before reintroducing peanuts into an allergic person's diet. Sometimes, an allergist will suggest desensitization to eliminate the allergy.
If you're allergic to peanuts or cooking for someone who is, you need to be careful. When in doubt, keep peanuts out of the house.