Growing up, we have all heard about nut allergy safety in the cafeteria and classroom. It is also common for cafes and restaurants to post warning signs about these allergies. Clearly, it is something worth paying attention to. But can a nut allergy truly be that bad? In some cases, it can be. Enough to warrant an in-depth understanding of the condition. To get you started, here is a complete guide on nut allergies. Safety first, folks.
Common Nut Allergies: Peanuts, Walnuts, And Cashews
Aside from shellfish, tree nuts are the most common food allergens. This category includes walnuts, cashews, pine nuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, almonds, and lichee nuts. The peanut, which is a legume that is treated like a nut, also shares this infamy.
Coconuts, on the other hand, are tree nuts that are not associated with severe allergies. The incidence of a coconut allergy is actually quite rare.1
When an allergic reaction occurs, the proteins are the ones to blame. But unlike milder food allergies, allergic reactions to nuts are also associated with anaphylaxis. This is characterized by an extreme, life-threatening reaction. It emphasizes just how crucial it is to know how to recognize a nut allergy.
Symptoms Of A Nut Allergy: Nausea, Cramps, And Rashes
There are many ways in which you might react to nuts. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the following signs and symptoms are most commonly associated with nuts.2
- Cramps and abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Itchiness or rash on any body part (including the tongue and eyes)
- Trouble swallowing
- A runny nose or congestion
The most frightening symptom of a nut allergy is anaphylaxis. This usually occurs in people with severe tree nut or peanut allergies. In this case, allergy symptoms may intensify and breathing may become difficult. Blood circulation is also impacted. In order to alleviate these symptoms, you will need an immediate dose of epinephrine (also called adrenaline if you are in Europe). Individuals have died in less than 30 minutes due to delays in epinephrine administration.3
Don’t Avoid All Nuts – Get An Allergy Test, Instead
If you do not know if you are allergic to certain nuts, consult an allergist. A combination of medical history, family background, and tests (blood and skin prick) is typically used to determine the presence of allergies. A supervised “oral food challenge” can also be implemented if other tests are not conclusive. This test entails consuming a small amount of each food in question at the allergist’s office. Of course, in this scenario, medical help will be on standby.4
Be Wary Of Cross-Contamination
If you already know that you have a nut allergy, keep the following things in mind:
- Nuts (and seeds) that you are not allergic to might be produced in the same facilities of nuts that you are allergic to. In many cases, the same equipment may be used. To be safe, avoid them or read labels carefully.
- Nuts can find their way into a range of unexpected foods. For instance, walnuts or almonds may be added to baked goods, candy, nougat, and specialty pizzas – just to name a few. Certain cuisines like Middle Eastern foods are more likely to have traces of walnuts or pistachios in their meals. Cashew nuts may appear in confectionery or in Indian food, just as peanuts are popular in Far Eastern cuisines. Cross-contamination is more likely if they also serve foods that incorporate nuts. If you are at a food establishment, don’t be afraid to double check with the waiter.
- According to Food Allergy Research and Education, even if you are allergic to a nut like peanut, you may be able to consume peanut oil. That is because the processing to create a highly refined peanut oil rids the product of the proteins that set off your allergy. However, if it is labeled cold-pressed, gourmet, extruded, or expelled, the gentler process means your allergy could in all likelihood still be triggered. Check with your doctor to be sure.5
You May Not Outgrow Your Nut Allergies
Unlike other allergies that manifest during childhood, nut allergies do not always go away on their own. So if you develop this problem as a child, it is quite likely that it will last into adulthood. According to Allergy UK, the British Allergy Foundation, only 20 percent of kids with nut allergies outgrow them. In fact, for another 20 percent of kids, the allergies worsen with time. It just goes to show how important it is to become familiar with your own allergies.6
Take Precautions To Avoid Or Deal With Attacks
While curing your allergy may not be possible, you can take precautions to avoid a scary incident.
- Read labels: For starters, pay attention to what you eat. Always read the packaging and double check with restaurants to ensure that your meal doesn’t contain anything you are allergic to.
- Inform others: If necessary, carry a card explaining your condition. This way, the right help can be provided should you be unable to communicate during a life-threatening reaction. The card should also carry emergency medical contact information of your doctor and a close family member or friend.
- Carry emergency medication: If your allergy is very severe and can cause anaphylaxis, keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times. This is vital preparation in the case of a reaction from cross-contamination or accidental exposure.7
Once you have zeroed in on your allergies, do not let that hold you back. Knowing your body well means you are in better control and can still enjoy a wide range of foods with just a little care. And if you are especially concerned, the little precautions we have mentioned should arm you to be as much of a foodie as the next person! Bon Appétit!
|↑1||Coconut allergy. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.|
|↑2, ↑4||Tree Nut Allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.|
|↑3||About Anaphylaxis. Food Allergy Research & Education.|
|↑5, ↑7||Peanut Allergy. Food Allergy Research & Education.|
|↑6||Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy. Allergy UK, British Allergy Foundation.|