Peanut allergies are a matter of life and death. That point was driven home recently when a 13-year old California girl attending summer camp died after taking a bite of food that contained peanuts.
A growing number of people, mostly children, are living with severe peanut allergies that can kill. The problem has grown so serious that DBV Technologies, a French firm, is working on a patch that will help protect people with this heightened sensitivity from some of the dangers they now face.
Not all peanut allergies are life-threatening. Sometimes they trigger only a minor irritation. The danger is that they can evolve and become more dangerous over time. For some people with peanut allergy, such as the young California victim, even tiny amount of peanut can cause a serious reaction.
It's important to be aware of the symptoms of peanut allergies. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms usually appear within minutes of exposure.
The more minor symptoms include:
- Skin reactions, such as hives, redness or swelling;
- Itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat;
- Digestive problems, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting;
- Tightening of the throat;
- Shortness of breath or wheezing; and
- Runny nose
Anaphylaxis is the life-threatening reaction to peanuts. It's a medical emergency that requires treatment with the drug epinephrine, a stimulant. Injectible versions of the drug go by the trade names EpiPen and Twinject. Some people with peanut allergies carry these injectable drugs with them at all times.
Anaphylaxis symptoms fall into the serious and life-threatening category:
- Constriction of airways;
- Swelling of your throat that makes it difficult to breathe;
- A severe drop in blood pressure (shock);
- Rapid pulse; and
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis symptoms should be treated in an emergency room.
Allergy can appear suddenly
Many children grow up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Peanuts are in all sorts of candy and desserts. So why would a child suddenly develop an allergy to this most common of foods?
According to physicians, a peanut allergy can develop when your immune system suddenly changes the way it classifies peanuts. Instead of seeing the lowly peanut as a benign form of protein, the immune system identifies it as a toxic substance.
The body reacts by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to do battle with the peanuts and it is these chemicals that cause the symptoms, both minor and severe. The million-dollar question is why some people develop this glitch in their immune systems and others don't.
There are a number of risk factors, age being the primary one. Food allergies generally appear early in life. Children, in fact, are most vulnerable to peanut allergies. Sometimes they outgrow them but usually they don't. If someone else in your family has a peanut or other food allergy, you could also be at greater risk of developing the condition as well.
One of the most dangerous food allergies
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) estimates as much as two percent of the U.S. population may be affected by peanut allergies. The group says peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of death due to food allergies.
“As with most allergies, avoidance is key,” AAFA advises on its website. “Make sure to read all labels for foods, medicines, cosmetics, creams and ointments that may contain any type or amount of peanut. A history of allergic reactions shortly after exposure to peanuts might suggest an allergy.”
The only way to tell for sure, however, is to consult with your doctor. Tests exist that can quickly identify the presence of the allergy. If you suspect you or your child may have a peanut allergy, talk to your doctor about a complete diagnosis.