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In a Nutshell: Understanding Peanut Allergies

Peanuts are tasty treats, but they also can trigger serious allergic reactions in some people. So much so that they have been banned in some schools. If your child is allergic to peanuts, here’s what you need to know.

Peanuts in shells

Signs of a peanut allergy

Despite its name, the peanut isn’t a nut at all. It’s actually a legume. Legumes are plants that grow underground. The group includes beans, peas, and lentils.

Peanuts may not seem to have much in common with milk, eggs, or wheat either. But like these foods, they are at the top of the food allergy list. Even the slightest trace of a peanut can cause a reaction in children who are allergic to them. And more and more children seem to be developing this serious food allergy.

Your child may be allergic to peanuts if he or she has these symptoms after eating or coming into contact with them.

Call your child's healthcare provider immediately for common symptoms

  • Hives (small spots or large welts)

  • Red, itchy skin

  • Itching or tingling feeling in the mouth

  • Runny nose or congestion

Call 911 for more serious symptoms or anaphylaxis

  • Trouble breathing, talking, swallowing, or drooling

  • Any change in level of alertness or unconsciousness

  • Cool, moist, or pale (or blue in color) skin

  • Fast heartbeat or weak pulse and feeling weak

  • Wheezing or short of breath

  • Feeling lightheaded or confused or dizzy

  • Very drowsy or trouble awakening

  • Swelling of the tongue, face, or lips

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Diarrhea, abdominal pain, or stomach cramps

  • Seizure

  • Chest pain or tightness

Steps for managing the allergy

Many children develop a peanut allergy early in life. A number of tests can help find out if your child has such an allergy. A common one is a skin prick test. Your child’s healthcare provider will scratch your child’s skin with a small amount of peanut extract. If your child’s skin becomes red and swollen, a peanut allergy is likely.

It’s important to know that your child may test positive for a peanut allergy but not have a reaction. That’s because your child’s body may have not yet built up enough of specific antibodies to cause an allergic reaction. These antibodies are called immunoglobulin E.

Unfortunately, a peanut allergy can’t be cured. And few children outgrow it. So avoiding peanuts and foods that contain them has long been the key strategy for managing the allergy. Many different foods can have peanuts or peanut residue in them. The legume can hide in foods like baked goods, salad dressings, chili sauce, candy, and even pet food.

To help protect your allergic child, follow these tips:

  • When grocery shopping, be sure to check a food item’s ingredients label for peanuts.

  • Always keep medicine on hand. An epinephrine auto-injector can help stop a severe allergic reaction. Make sure that you understand when and how to use this medicine.

  • Work with your child’s healthcare provider to develop a care plan in case of an emergency.

  • If your child has a serious allergy, have him or her wear a medical alert bracelet that notes this allergy.

  • Tell all care providers and school officials about your child's allergy. Tell them how to use any prescribed medicine.

Can you help prevent a peanut allergy in your child?

Newer research suggests you may be able to help prevent a peanut allergy, mainly in young children at high risk for it. Infants at high risk for the allergy include those with a family history of food allergies or those who already have other food allergies or the skin condition eczema.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, introducing small amounts of peanut-containing products in the first year of life (4 to 6 months) may help prevent the allergy. But, always talk with your child’s healthcare provider first to see if it is right for your child. Whether your child is at high risk for a peanut allergy or not, never give a child younger than age 4 whole or partial peanuts. They can be a choking hazard. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Blaivas, Allen J., DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Pierce-Smith, Daphne, RN, MSN, CCRC
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2017
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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