Peanut Allergies: Life-Saving Tips

Peanut allergies range in severity from mild symptoms to a life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis). Learn the latest answers to what is safe to eat, what to avoid and the special precautions that should be taken to prevent accidental exposure.
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Peanut allergies can be diagnosed at any age, but often appear in the first years of life.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Peanut allergies can be diagnosed at any age, but often appear in the first years of life. Most kids do not outgrow a peanut allergy, unlike allergies to milk or eggs. This is an allergic reaction that is likely to continue into adulthood.

 Symptoms may include:

  • Hives, eczema or a new rash
  • Tingling or swelling in the mouth, tongue or throat
  • Difficulty with breathing; respiratory symptoms such as coughing or wheezing
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness; feeling faint, a loss of consciousness

 

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, peanut allergy testing may include the following:

  • Taking a history of first suspected reaction to peanuts — including when the reaction occurred, a full list of symptoms, and what else was ingested before the reaction occurred.
  • Evaluating a "diet diary," or food log, to determine the cause of the allergy.
  • Initiating an elimination diet to remove suspicious foods, one by one, until the cause of the allergy is determined.
  • Conducting a skin test, where a small amount of the suspected food allergen is placed in a scratch or a prick in your skin to test for a reaction.
  • Ordering a blood test for antibodies that can indicate a likelihood of food allergies.

 

Prevent exposure at home

If keeping a peanut-free home isn’t practical, follow these guidelines:

  • Use peanut-free utensils and cookware to prepare food for someone with a peanut allergy.  Maintain separate knives, cutting boards and cooking utensils. Consider purchasing cookware specifically for peanut-free food prep; Giant Eagle carries a wide selection of affordable everyday supplies.
  • Wash your hands with hot water and soap when preparing food for someone with a peanut allergy. Follow safe hand washing guidelines — before and after food prep.
  • Wash prep and cooking surfaces after preparing food with peanuts. Peanuts contain oil, so traces can lurk on surfaces, in crevices, and on edges of knives and kitchen tools. Always designate separate washing equipment for cooking tools that touch peanuts.
  • Use paper towels to clean up after handling peanut butter or nuts, and throw the towels away so the peanut-allergic person is not at risk.

 

Be prepared on-the-go

  • Carry an epinephrine pen as well as emergency contact numbers, whenever you go out. Know how to use the pen, and find out where you can get help if you have an allergic reaction.
  • Notify co-workers or personnel at your child's school about peanut allergies, and raise awareness of cross-contamination.
  • Know restaurant policies for guests with allergies. In particular, ask if the restaurant cleans all equipment with allergies in mind – do they take precautions to avoid cross-contamination?
  • Alert servers when ordering food in a restaurant – explain the allergy and its severity.
  • Keep your order simple. Avoid sauces or special seasonings as well as menu items that might have come into contact with peanuts.

 

Make safer food choices

  • Read labels closely — look for warnings that foods have been processed with peanuts.
  • Avoid foods that are likely to contain peanuts, including most pesto and mole sauces, salad dressings, marinades, egg rolls and many Asian, Thai and Mexican dishes.
  • Avoid foods fried in peanut oil.
  • Substitute sun butter or soy butter for peanut butter in dishes. These butters add protein to your meal, just like peanut butter. Tip: Read labels to make sure these products are not processed with peanuts.
  • Use canola or vegetable oil in place of peanut oil when frying foods.

 

Why do peanut allergies seem more common?

  • Better medical care. Advances in and availability of testing have increased diagnosis.
  • Modern food processing. Automated equipment and high-volume production lines provide opportunity for cross-contamination.
  • Cleanliness leads to…allergies? Our highly sanitized environment is suspected to have caused some people to develop hypersensitive immune systems as a result of having fewer germs to fight off. 

Sources:
The Centers for Disease Control Healthy Youth!
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
The National Institutes of Health

Important Physician Advice Disclaimer: The content provided by Giant Eagle®, including but not limited to, website, recipe and health information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician for professional guidance before changing or undertaking a new diet program. Advance consultation with your physician is particularly important if you are under the age of 18, pregnant, nursing or have health problems.