Allergies come in all forms from all different sources. Nut allergies are highly common and grow in occurrence every year. Most nut allergy sufferers are born with the allergy and while some grow older to see fewer symptoms, others are going to be allergic their entire life.
Some will even develop other allergies that are related to nut allergies. If someone is allergic to non-tree nuts, for example, it is likely they will also become allergic to tree nuts also. In this article, we will discuss the types of nut allergies, peanut allergies, food allergies as well as their symptoms, avoidances and treatments.
Types of Nuts
There are literally dozens of different types of nuts. Nuts that are edible are classified into four main groups. These groups determine more of how they are used or eaten than where they come from or how they are harvested.
Culinary nuts, for example, are fruits or seeds that are used in cooking, snacks and are prepared, seasoned or eaten raw. There are over 30 types of culinary nuts, most being similar species and grouped together.
Drupes are nuts that have a fleshy, or meaty fruit that surrounds a pit or stone. Almonds are the most notable Drupe nut, but there are more than a dozen varieties.
Gymnosperm nuts are generally seeds that have no fruit or shell. These are the root seeds of the main plant and if not harvested can bloom into a new plant on their own. Pine nuts, for example, are a type of gymnosperm.
The final group is called angiosperm nuts. These are similar to gymnosperm except that they come in a shell or casing. Peanuts are the most common angiosperm.
Today we will focus on two groupings that include different nuts from the four sets: Tree nuts and ground nuts, specifically peanuts.
Tree nuts, as the name suggests, grow on trees. These can be any of the four main sets as all four are found in trees. The most common edible tree nuts are walnuts, cashews, chestnuts and hazelnuts.
Allergies from tree nuts are very common especially when the source of most tree nuts also contains peanuts. Tree nuts are required, because they are an allergen, to be listed on all packaged food sold in the U.S. There are eight major allergens that have this requirement.
Because tree nuts are similar in a genetic makeup sense, if someone is allergic to one type of tree nut there is an almost certain instance of being allergic to all tree nuts. There are instances, though, where an individual may be allergic to one or some but not all, tree nuts.
Testing can be done, but the major consensus is to avoid all tree nuts “just in case” as it can’t be determined if one type came in contact with another type at any point of the harvesting or packaging process.
The most common reaction to nut allergies is anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can occur from initial contact to the allergen to up to an hour after. Ingesting the allergen, such as eating a tree nut, can cause severe reactions that can be potentially life-threatening.
Anaphylaxis causes the body to release chemicals that cause allergic symptoms. Swelling, itching, redness and irritation are the most common. When ingesting an allergen that causes anaphylaxis, swelling of the throat and air passages can cause fainting or even death.
Peanuts are a ground nut or seed. They fall in the same family as sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Peanuts have one of the highest food allergy rates in the United States. Peanuts are also required, like tree nuts, to be listed on all food packaging by the USDA.
Peanuts also cause anaphylaxis and should be treated with the same care and supervision as any antigen would be. Because peanuts are commonly associated with tree nuts, the edibles are often packaged in the same factories. Even if you aren’t allergic to tree nuts, the likelihood of packaged tree nuts containing peanuts, or being in contact with peanuts at some point is very high.
It is this reason that most doctors will warn to avoid all nuts when a specific nut allergy is determined. Because not all foods are regulated with warning requirements, it is on the individual to make sure nuts are not included in the manufacturing, cooking or preparation process.
Avoidance of Nuts and Allergies
It is almost impossible to never come in contact with tree nuts or peanuts during the course of everyday life. However, knowing the aspects of such instances, where they occur and where they are possible can help to avoid contact or ingestion.
Aside from the very obvious of avoiding the actual nuts, you should be aware that there are many foods that contain, use or have contact with nuts. Flavorings, spices, oils and even candy has the potential to contain nuts.
Peanut oil is used for cooking and can cause a reaction even if the food being cooked in the oil isn’t a nut. Restaurants need to be screened for cooking habits and when in doubt you should always ask the chef if any nuts, oils or spices are being used in the kitchen.
A lot of places will allow you to ask for a non-peanut or non-tree nut dish and in most cases, the chefs will prepare your meal separately from any possible cross contamination. However, it is not a guarantee that you won’t have any contact at all.
Food allergies are very common when it comes to peanuts and tree nuts. You should always be aware of the symptoms.
Peanut Allergy Symptoms
Peanut allergy symptoms are generally fast-acting, which means you will know within minutes if you have come in contact with peanuts. Topical symptoms include:
- A runny nose
- Redness and swelling
- Tingling, especially around the mouth.
There are also symptoms of peanut ingestion:
- Stomach cramps
- Swelling of the throat
- Shortness of breath
- Anaphylaxic shock
Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous of the symptoms as it can cause fainting or even death. Knowing the signs is one thing, knowing how to treat anaphylaxis is another.
Treating Anaphylaxis Shock
When the body has an anaphylactic episode breathing becomes difficult, the airway constricts and the blood pressure drops. Epinephrine is the most common and effective treatment.
For those that suffer from peanut or tree nut allergies, it is important to have an epinephrine injection close by at all times. Because you can never know for certain when you will come in contact with nuts.
There are injections call pens that have a single dose of epinephrine in them and you can easily inject the medicine virtually anywhere. Large muscle groups are common, such as the thighs, arms, and buttocks.
Relief of the symptoms is almost instant but should be monitored. Once the epinephrine has been administered, emergency services should be notified. It is wise to be checked out by medical professionals to ensure the treatment has worked and that anything further can be administered, watched and treated.
Minor symptoms will generally disappear on their own. Especially with external contact. Should you notice a reaction such as hives, itching, redness or tingling, it is best to wash the area with warm soapy water thoroughly. Try not to scratch or rub the area as this can cause an external reaction to become an internal one.
If you are in doubt, the symptoms do not subside, or they get worse, you should seek medical attention. It is always safer to seek minor treatment than to assume the issue will go away on its own. In the event it doesn’t, you may find it difficult to get treatment in time.
Peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common allergens in the United States. They can affect us from birth, as toddlers and children or even develop later in life as an adult.
If you aren’t sure if you are allergic or not you can get an allergy test, scratch test or bloodwork done to tell for sure. If you are allergic, you should understand that complete avoidance is near impossible.
You should always be prepared for incidental contact or ingestion and have an epinephrine injection close by at all times. Your doctor can prescribe treatments and epinephrine pens for you to have on hand.
When eating packaged foods, you should always read the label. Peanuts and tree nuts are required listings as potential allergens on any packaged food product sold in the U.S. However, unpacked or prepared foods are not required to notify you of a possible nut content.
You should always ask if you are unsure, especially when dining out. Peanuts, spices, tree nuts, oils and extracts are very common kitchen ingredients and can be avoided by simply asking.
It is always better to play safe and avoid any possible contact or ingestion whenever possible and be ready with epinephrine when contact is made or accidentally ingested.