One of the most common food allergies is nut allergy, both in children and adults. While children will often outgrow allergies to foods like milk and eggs, nut allergies usually endure for life.
People often lump peanuts in with tree nuts because they share taste and nutritional profiles, but peanuts are actually legumes that grow underground. (Other legumes include soybeans, peas and lentils.) Peanuts can be highly allergenic as can tree nuts (which include pecans, macadamia nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and pine nuts).
In nut allergies, the immune system reacts to proteins found in nuts and releases chemicals such as histamine into the body. These chemicals can cause rash; watery, itchy eyes; and sneezing. Other symptoms include tingling and swelling of the mouth, lips, and face. Severe reactions include enlarged blood vessels, low blood pressure or increased heart rate, swollen throat and difficulty breathing. These severe reactions are known as “anaphylaxis.”
An allergy will often develop with a child’s second exposure to the nut or peanut. First exposure may come through mother’s milk if the child was breastfed. Even trace amounts of the nut can cause severe reactions.
While conventional wisdom used to advocate waiting to introduce kids to peanut products, new research suggests giving certain peanut products to at-risk babies as young as four months old. “High risk” children include those who develop eczema or an egg allergy in the first several months of life. This research was backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Avoiding nut products can be tricky, especially since even negligible quantities can trigger a reaction. Another challenge is that nuts may lurk in ostensibly non-nut products that were processed in the same plant as nut products. Make sure to read labels carefully and alert servers at restaurants about the nature of your allergy. If you have school-age kids with nut allergies, ongoing communication with leaders at their school and extra-curricular activities is imperative.
While avoidance used to be the primary option for nut allergy sufferers, treatment for nut allergies is now available through sublingual immunotherapy. A study at Duke University used sublingual immunotherapy to desensitize children to peanuts. Sublingual immunotherapy has also shown to be effective with tree nut allergy treatment. Ask your allergy doctor for more details. Treatment often starts with food allergy testing to ensure that you are a candidate for allergy drops for nut allergies.
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