Understanding Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies

Food allergies have become a serious concern, with approximately 32 million Americans suffering from them. Among the eight major food allergens, peanut and tree nut allergies are considered to be unique and more severe. Peanuts are a staple food in many households, but for some individuals, they can also be a potential threat. Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergens that can lead to a serious and life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

What Makes Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies So Serious?

A. Whole Body Reactions: Peanut and tree nut allergies are different from other food allergies as they can cause whole-body reactions from exposure to as little as 1/10th of a peanut. This is because reactions can occur from the residue and dust of both tree nuts and peanuts.

B. Lifelong Allergies: Peanut and tree nut allergies are generally considered to be lifelong allergies.

Symptoms and Treatment for An Anaphylactic Reaction

What is Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs within the whole body. If not treated quickly with epinephrine, it can be fatal.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis: Common symptoms of anaphylaxis include a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, abdominal cramps, loss of consciousness, and death. Symptoms typically appear within minutes to two hours after exposure and immediate medical attention is needed.

Emergency Treatment: The emergency treatment for anaphylaxis includes an injection of epinephrine to open up the airway and blood vessels.

Providing a Safe Environment for All Students

Preventing Exposure: To provide a safe environment for all students, it is recommended not to send peanut or nut products to school. If peanut or nut products are sent, remind your child to sit at the nut end of the table and to wash their hands.

Daily Precautions: If your child eats a peanut or nut product for breakfast, have them wash their hands and face prior to leaving home. Have your child wash their hands prior to reading library books and do not store them near nut or peanut products. Do not send party food that contains nut or peanut products.

Difference Between Peanut and Tree Nut

Definition: A peanut is a vegetable from the legume family, while a tree nut is a fruit and typically a hard, dry, closed one-seeded fruit.

Examples of Tree Nuts: Examples of tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and pistachios.

Cross-Reactivity between Peanuts and Tree Nuts

Advice: Although peanuts and tree nuts are not biologically related, there seems to be a high level of allergic cross-reactivity between peanuts and tree nuts. Hence, anyone with a peanut allergy is advised to avoid tree nuts (and vice versa).

Coconut and Nutmeg – Are they Nuts?

Coconut: Coconut is the seed of a fruit, but it is generally not restricted from the diet of tree-nut-allergic people.

Nutmeg and Water Chestnuts: Nutmeg and water chestnuts are not nuts and do not need to be avoided by tree-nut-allergic people.

Common Foods that Contain Peanuts and/or Tree Nuts

Peanut and Tree Nut Products: Aside from the obvious peanut butter and trail mix, peanuts and tree nuts are commonly found in granola bars, baked goods, cereal, chocolate candies, packaged goods, and many ethnic sauces.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has a great guide regarding foods that contain nuts.

Frequently Asked Questions on Nut Allergies

What is a nut allergy?

A nut allergy is a type of food allergy that occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to a nut protein as if it were harmful, leading to symptoms such as hives, itching, swelling, digestive issues, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Important information: A nut allergy is a type of food allergy The immune system reacts to nut proteins as harmful Can cause a range of symptoms including hives, itching, and anaphylaxis

What are the common symptoms of a nut allergy?

The symptoms of a nut allergy can vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms include hives, itching, redness, swelling, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, wheezing, coughing, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, a nut allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Important information: Symptoms can vary in severity and frequency Common symptoms include hives, itching, and digestive issues Severe cases can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction

How is a nut allergy diagnosed?

A nut allergy can be diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and allergy tests. The most common allergy tests are skin prick tests and blood tests, which measure the level of allergy-specific antibodies in the blood. In some cases, a doctor may also conduct an oral food challenge, where the patient is gradually exposed to increasing amounts of nut protein to determine if an allergic reaction occurs. Important information: Diagnosis can be done through medical history, physical examination, and allergy tests Common allergy tests include skin prick tests and blood tests An oral food challenge may also be done to determine an allergic reaction

How is a nut allergy treated?

There is currently no cure for a nut allergy, and the best way to manage the condition is to avoid all products that contain nuts. People with nut allergies should carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times, in case of accidental exposure. In the event of anaphylaxis, the individual should use the auto-injector immediately and seek emergency medical attention. Important information: There is no cure for nut allergies Best way to manage is to avoid nut-containing products Carrying an epinephrine auto-injector is recommended in case of accidental exposure

What precautions should people with nut allergies take?

People with nut allergies should take several precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to nut proteins, including reading food labels carefully, avoiding foods that contain nuts or are processed in facilities that also process nuts, and carrying an epinephrine auto-injector at all times. They should also inform their friends, family, and coworkers about their allergies and educate themselves on the symptoms of anaphylaxis. It is also important to inform restaurants and airlines about the nut allergy when making reservations or booking flights. Important information: Read food labels carefully Avoid foods containing nuts or processed in facilities that process nuts Inform friends, family, coworkers, restaurants, and airlines about the allergy.