Peanut & Tree Nut Allergy Facts Presented in conjunction with the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network ("FAAN"). For more information about FAAN, click here. Please note: people can be allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you or your child may have allergies or if you have questions about allergies.
Q: What is a food allergy?
A: A food allergy occurs when the immune system of someone who has the allergy mistakenly believes that a harmless substance, for example, a peanut protein, is harmful. In its attempt to protect the body, the immune system of an allergic person creates antibodies and, for example, when peanut protein is ingested by a person with a peanut allergy, massive amounts of chemicals and histamines are released in order to protect the body. These chemicals trigger a cascade of allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system.
Q: How many people have peanut and tree nut allergies?
A: It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans are allergic to peanuts and that 1.5 million Americans are allergic to tree nuts. In total, about one percent of the population (or about 10 per thousand) are allergic to either peanuts or tree nuts. This allergy is considered lifelong. Even small amounts of peanuts can cause a reaction in some individuals. That's why it is so important to strictly avoid peanuts if you are allergic to them.
Q: Are all peanut allergies and tree nut allergies life threatening?
A: No. Some people with a peanut allergy or a tree nut allergy only develop eczema, a mild rash around the mouth or an upset stomach after eating peanuts. Others may have severe, life-threatening reactions called anaphylaxis, which includes swelling of the mouth or throat, difficulty breathing or a drop in blood pressure, after eating just a small amount of peanuts or tree nuts. Anyone with peanut allergies or tree nut allergies could potentially have a life-threatening reaction if exposed to a sufficiently large amount of peanuts or tree nuts, so it is important to always be prepared for a reaction. Be sure to have clear instructions from your doctor about how to treat an allergic reaction. Always carry medications, and act quickly if a reaction does occur.
Q: Are all nut allergies the same (for example, is a peanut allergy the same as a tree nut allergy in terms of prevalence, symptoms and treatment)?
A: Peanuts are legumes; they are in the bean family and grow in the ground. Tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, cashews) grow on trees. The two foods are not related. The number of people who are allergic to tree nuts is about the same as those who are allergic to peanuts. Allergic reactions to tree nuts can cause the same types of symptoms and are treated the same way as allergic reactions to peanuts. People can be allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts or just one or the other.
Q: Why do some people who have a peanut or tree nut allergy die from their reactions?
A: Reactions usually occur when someone unknowingly eats a food with the allergen (peanut or tree nut) in it. Most often, fatalities occur when allergic persons don't recognize early warning signs of an allergic reaction, don't have medication with them, or there is a delay in getting emergency help.
If you have a peanut or tree nut allergy or suspect you have an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts or any food, talk to your doctor, see an allergist, get a proper diagnosis and always be prepared for a reaction.
Q: What could cause my child to have peanut or tree nut allergies?
A: Some parents feel a sense of guilt when their child is diagnosed with a peanut or tree nut allergy because they worry that the allergy could have been prevented if they had done something differently. Don't feel guilty! Researchers don't fully understand why some people develop allergies while others do not.
At this time, there are no indications that any actions during pregnancy can cause a baby to develop a peanut or tree nut allergy.
Q: If my child has a peanut or tree nut allergy, what are the chances that my future children will have it?
A: No one can predict with certainty whether your next child will or will not develop food allergies. However, if one child has a peanut or tree nut allergy, there is a greater chance of a second child having the allergy, too.
Q: Now that my child has a peanut or tree nut allergy, I am concerned about him/her going out to a restaurant, going to a friend's house, going to school or even staying with a babysitter. Any suggestions?
A: There are many resources available to help you understand allergies and how to communicate with others on whom you rely to help keep your child safe. Education, cooperation and awareness are the keys to successfully managing the allergy while participating in normal activities—especially school. You're not alone. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has many tools to help you, including resources that cover all of these situations, and many more. Contact FAAN at www.foodallergy.org or(800) 929-4040 for more information. Your child can have a perfectly normal life once you, your child and the caretaker(s) are knowledgeable about peanut allergies and prepared for an allergic reaction.
Q: My child's friend has a severe peanut allergy. What can I do to help keep him symptom-free in my home?
A: The key to preventing a reaction is to discuss the child's allergy with the parents. Most parents will ask that you not feed their child (they may send a snack to your home), that you keep the child's medication at your home while the child is visiting and that you call the family at the first sign of a reaction. Keep in mind that the children are usually well educated about what to do and what to avoid. Follow their lead.
Q: If my child has a peanut or tree nut allergy, how can I teach his friends about the allergy (what to do and what to avoid)?
A: Below are some suggestions from FAAN's Be a P.A.L. (Protect A Life) campaign:
A: It is important to read every food label and to ask questions when dining away from home because peanuts, peanut butter and tree nuts can show up almost anywhere. Here are just a few examples of foods that have caused reactions due to unexpected peanut ingredients in restaurant meals: chili, spaghetti sauce, egg rolls, brown gravy, meat marinade, beef stew and enchilada sauce.