Home Peanut Allergies
For the vast majority of people, peanuts and peanut butter are a perfectly safe snack. However, some adults and children are allergic to peanuts. If you suspect you have a allergy to any food item, please consult with your doctor or a certified allergist.
In Canada, common foods associated with allergies include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts), fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sulphites.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is any reaction to an otherwise harmless food or food component that involves the body’s immune system. A reaction occurs when the body’s immune system responds abnormally to the protein or proteins in that particular food. The body reacts by flooding the system with histamines and other chemicals to fight off what is perceived as an invader in the body.
Can anyone develop a food allergy?
Yes. Although anyone can develop a food allergy at any time, the tendency toward allergic reactions is largely inherited. Where there is a history of atopic disorders (such as asthma or eczema) or other allergies, children may have two to four times the likelihood of developing an allergy as compared to children from families without allergic parents.
How easy is it to identify the symptoms of a food allergy?
Most allergy sufferers experience mild reactions. Symptoms can include varying degrees of hives, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing and vomiting. A small proportion of susceptible sufferers may experience severe and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a rare but potentially fatal condition in which several different parts of the body experience severe allergic reactions simultaneously. This may included swelling of the mouth and throat, a drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness, hives and other symptoms. Anaphylactic reactions can be mild to life-threatening and can occur within minutes to four hours after exposure to the allergen, requiring immediate medical care. Emergency treatment often includes injection of epinephrine. Persons with food allergies often are prescribed epinephrine to carry with them at all times in the event of anaphylaxis.
Can adults develop new food allergies?
Yes. Though most individuals develop food allergies in early childhood, food allergies can develop at any age.
Are food allergies life-long?
Children commonly outgrow food allergies. However, allergies to peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish are usually life-long.
Are there reasons why a peanut allergy is so severe?
Peanuts are a complex plant food, with more than 30 different proteins. Research is underway to identify exactly which proteins trigger an allergic reaction, and why the reaction can vary in severity among allergy sufferers. Peanut allergy appears to be progressive—subsequent reactions tend to be more severe. Other foods, including dairy, tree nuts and shellfish also can cause severe reactions.
Can smelling a peanut can cause a severe reaction?
Simply smelling the aroma of peanuts is not the same as breathing in protein particles which would cause an allergic reaction. The chemicals which are detected as the odour of peanuts are aromatic molecules called pyrazines and incapable of causing allergic reactions.
Are peanut allergies increasing?
Research indicates that all food allergies are increasing. It’s difficult to determine if the increased reports of food allergies in general and peanut allergy in particular are due to actual increases in incidence or a result of increased awareness among consumers and health professionals.
How many peanuts must be ingested to cause a reaction?
Recent evidence indicates that even trace amounts of peanuts can be enough to cause a major reaction in those very few individuals who are severely allergic.
How is a food allergy diagnosed?
Diagnosing a food allergy may not be difficult if a person always has the same reaction after eating a certain food. However, foods are generally eaten in combination. It is therefore important to consult a certified allergist to determine if the symptoms are caused by food and if so, which one.
Food allergies are diagnosed by taking a thorough medical and dietary history, keeping a food diary, eliminating suspect foods, conducting skin tests, and evaluating food challenges. It is important to consult a board-certified allergist if you suspect you have a food allergy. Allergists can accurately diagnose the allergy and prescribe medication for its treatment.
Can anything be done to manage peanut allergy and prevent a reaction?
The only certain way to prevent a reaction is avoidance—there is no treatment to prevent peanut allergy. However, with proper management, awareness, and education, most reactions to food allergens can be avoided.
Individuals with a food allergy should diligently read all food labels and ask questions about foods prepared away from the home (such as at school or a restaurant). In the day care or school setting, parents of a child with a food allergy should educate teachers and school staff so they are prepared to recognize and treat severe allergic reactions immediately and seek first aid.
In consultation with their physicians, individuals who suffer from severe allergic reactions should always carry appropriate medication such as a self-injectable form of epinephrine (adrenaline). Sufferers should also consider wearing an identity bracelet or medallion to alert others if they have a problem.
How is a severe allergic reaction to peanuts treated?
Epinephrine, when prescribed by a physician, should be administered immediately to the individual suffering from a severe reaction to food. Emergency medical services must then be obtained for further treatment.
It is important to note that an injection of epinephrine does not cure the allergic reaction—it only alleviates the immediate reaction to allow the extra time necessary to seek emergency medical services.
What are the risks when flying with a peanut allergy?
In June 2016, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) released a report on the Ministerial Inquiry into Allergies to Peanuts, Nuts and Sesame Seeds in Commercial Air Travel. The report concludes that "there is little or no evidence that there is a risk of anaphylaxis due to inhalation of or dermal contact with peanut, nut or sesame seed allergens while on board aircraft." The report also makes recommendations for effective risk mitigation, which includes a row of buffer zone in which the allergic passenger is seated. For the full report, visit the Canadian Transportation Agency website.
Should peanuts and peanut butter be given to infants and children?
Health Canada offers the following advice in a draft recommendation entitled Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Six to 24 Months that is being prepared by an Infant Feeding Joint Working Group.
Hard, small and round, smooth and sticky solid foods can block a young child's airway. The following foods are not safe for infants and children under 4 years of age: popcorn, hard candies, gum, cough drops, raisins, peanuts or other nuts, sunflower seeds, fish with bones, and snacks using toothpicks or skewers (Harris et al., 1984). The following foods are safer for infants and young children when they are prepared as described: wieners diced or cut lengthwise, grated raw carrots or hard fruit pieces, fruits with pits removed, chopped grapes, and peanut butter spread thinly on crackers or bread. Peanut butter served alone, or on a spoon, is potentially unsafe because it can stick in the palate or posterior pharynx leading to asphyxia.
What advice can be given to parents on introducing new foods if they have concerns about food allergies?
If the child or a close family member (e.g. a parent) is known to have a food allergy or atopic condition (asthma, eczema or hayfever) then the advice of a qualified allergist should be sought to determine when or if to consider introducing peanut-containing foods.
There is no evidence that the order in which solid foods are introduced to infants affects their risk of developing a food allergy. Common food allergens, such as fish, wheat, dairy products, nut-containing foods and whole eggs, can be introduced from about six months of age. Ensure that any food offered to infants is an appropriate texture for their developmental age. Parents should introduce new foods one at time. If an infant were to have an allergic reaction, it will be easier to identify which food that may have caused the reaction. Every couple of days, an infant can be introduced to a new food.
Should peanut oil be avoided?
The process of refining oil removes the protein which would trigger an allergic reaction. Peanut oil (sometimes labelled as Arachnis oil) is commonly used as a component in vegetable oil, as a carrier in processed foods or as an emulsifier/lubricant in cosmetics. The oil is highly refined, and should pose no problem for allergy sufferers. However, oils which are cold pressed to retain their flavour or oil that has been used to cook peanuts do contain protein and therefore should be avoided.
Can a food be made less allergenic by cooking it?
A food allergy is an immune system response to a protein in a food. The protein remains in the food during heating, therefore, you cannot make a food less allergenic by cooking it.
Can peanuts appear in unexpected foods?
Yes. It is possible that peanuts could be found in the following:
Sauces such as chili sauce, hot sauce, pesto, gravy, mole sauce and salad dressing
Sweets such as pudding, cookies, and hot chocolate
Asian and Mexican dishes
Some vegetarian food products, especially those advertised as meat substitutes
Foods that contain extruded, cold-pressed, or expelled peanut oil, which may contain peanut protein
Glazes and marinades
To learn more about food allergies, visit Allergy Canada's latest online learning tool, Anaphylaxis in the Community: What Parents and Others Need to Know available at allergyaware.ca. This is a free, medically-reviewed resource designed for people with potentially life-threatening allergies and those who care for them.
For more information about food allergies, you can also visit the websites below:
The Allergy/Asthma Information Association
L’Association québécoise des allergies alimentaire
Food Allergy Canada
The Food Safety Network
Canadian Allergy Asthma and Immunology Foundation
Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology