Peanut allergy - what you need to know

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Friday, 16 November 2012.
Tagged: allergies, guides, healthy cooking, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, peanut allergy, tips

Peanut allergy - what you need to know

Peanut allergy is one of the most serious food allergies because of the danger of developing the dangerous, and sometimes fatal, condition of anaphylaxis. In the USA, it is estimated that 100 people die each year from peanut allergy.  Because of the potential loss of life, it is crucial we are all aware of foods that can trigger anaphylaxis such as peanuts. This applies to anyone looking after children particularly day care centre staff, teachers, parents and even grandparents.

How common is food allergy?

Around 1 in every 200 children will develop an anaphylactic reaction to food with around 1 in 5 suffering a severe reaction or worse.  The main offenders are:

• egg
• peanut
• milk
• fish
• soy
• wheat

Of these, most will grow out of allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat but peanut and fish allergies tend to be more severe and persist into adulthood.

The changing trend

Peanut allergy is on the increase in all Western countries for reasons researchers don't fully understand. In about 50 per cent of cases, there is also an allergy to another nut notably cashews, walnuts and almonds.

Children who have already had one allergic reaction are encouraged to carry with them a bee sting kit - an emergency syringe of adrenaline/epinephrine to counteract the allergic swelling and tightness of breath in case of accidental ingestion.

How to cope

There is no cure. Unlike other allergies, children do not ‘grow out of' peanut allergy. They have to strictly avoid them for life. Take these steps to avoid your child's exposure to peanut:

1. Be careful at home as well as eating out
2. Read all labels and learn about food
3. Be assertive and educate others
4. Plan trips/outings and take a supply of safe food
5. Ensure others can easily recognise you or your child as being at risk
6. Teach your child how to recognise peanuts and the foods that may contain hidden sources
7. Never coerce a child with a food allergy to eat a food he or she rejects
8. Learn how to use an Epipen (emergency adrenaline - see picture) and have a crisis plan

Hidden dangers

Nuts are often found in foods least expected. Check below for some of the obvious and not so obvious sources of peanuts in food:

Visible sources

  • peanuts
  • peanut butter
  • mixed nuts
  • peanut oil

Invisible sources

  • chocolate
  • cakes, muffins, and biscuits
  • ice cream
  • breakfast cereals
  • muesli
  • confectionary
  • satay sauce
  • pesto sauce
  • Thai food (peanut and peanut oil are common)
  • fruit and nut mixes
  • fried foods (peanut oil)

Check those labels

Reading labels can be a life saving tool. You must check:

1. The list of ingredients for PEANUTS.

2. A warning statement saying ‘May contain peanuts' or ‘May contain traces of nuts'. These warnings have been appearing on food packs over the last few years and are designed to alert consumers to the possible presence of an allergen that is not a true ingredient but has found its way accidentally into the food in trace amounts. This can happen in two main ways:

  • Sharing a processing line or machinery. Although cleaning always takes place, this is often not enough to eliminate absolutely all traces of peanuts, which may then contaminate the other normally allergen-free line.
  • Reworking - when a failed batch of one product is ‘blended into' another. Chocolate is particularly susceptible - a failed batch of say fruit and nut chocolate may be ground down and added to a batch of plain chocolate.

More information?

  • Families isolated by a child's potential life-threatening reactions to food are well supported by FACTS (Food Anaphylactic Children Training and Support Association) at www.allergyfacts.org.au.  This Australian volunteer organization offers valuable resources, updates and tips and most importantly puts families in touch with one another.
  • Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at www.allergy.org.au provides reliable information for consumers via their monthly topics and information bulletins.
  • The US Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) at www.foodallergy.org is a member organization, which publishes a newsletter and provides resources to educate consumers and health professionals about food allergy.
Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.