As many as one-and-a-half million Americans are allergic to peanuts and could be risking their lives with each peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
So serious can this allergy be that it accounts for over three-fourths of all deaths related to food allergies each year.
An allergy to peanut butter typically manifests at some point during early childhood. In fact, the initial occurrence of symptoms develops by the age of two for most of those peanut allergy sufferers. The initial warning signs of an allergic reaction to peanut butter can be as easy to underestimate as a runny nose or a skin rash that can be found on part of the body.
A more uncommon symptom that usually gets one’s attention is a tingling sensation on the tongue. The real danger involved in an allergic reaction is that these rather mundane symptoms very rapidly and without warning of the seriousness of the situation evolve into far more dangerous manifestations such as trouble breathing, a swelling of the throat or other areas of the body, a sudden and shocking drop of blood pressure, as well as dizziness that leads to unconsciousness.
Additional signs of a dangerous allergic reaction to peanut butter can also include nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and a constricted feeling in the throat. The most extreme reaction is anaphylactic shock, which can proceed with such rapidity that death can result in mere minutes. Someone who goes into anaphylactic shock must be quickly treated with epinephrine with the onset of symptoms.
Anaphylactic shock can occur after just the slightest exposure to peanut butter and can happen just seconds after being exposed to a triggering substance.
While it has been estimated that up to 1% of the population in America may have some level of allergy to peanuts, children are by far at the highest risk. Usually, these children have a family history of hay fever, asthma or eczema. It’s important to note that nut allergy and peanut allergy are totally different, peanuts being a legume.
There is always the case of accidental exposure to peanut butter at school, in restaurants, or at outdoor gatherings such as picnics or field trips.
Peanut allergies are triggered by a malfunction within the immune system that causes the body to wrongfully identify peanuts as an enemy to the system. Once this occurs, the body produces immunoglobulin E in order to neutralize the threat; upon the next contact with peanuts these antibodies send a signal to release histamine into the blood stream.
Histamine and the other chemicals released during this process are what the full range of reactions that are symptomatic of peanut allergy.
Exposure to the danger of peanuts occurs in three distinct manners. The most obvious is direct exposure via contact with peanuts.
This includes eating peanuts, but also such things as kissing someone who has eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or even just shaking the hand of someone who has eaten food that was prepared with peanuts.
There is also the danger from cross-contact, which is unintended exposure to peanuts. This can be done as the result of exposure to peanuts during processing or the handling of a product that has come into contact with peanuts.
The third method involves the inhalation of peanuts through such products as cooking oil or even peanut dust left at the bottom of a can tossed into a garbage bin.
Accidental exposure of those who suffer from allergies can even occur at sites where food is prepared but not necessarily exposed, or when peanut butter is used for such things as toys for pets or small animal traps.
It remains a mystery as to why certain people are at a higher risk for developing an allergy to peanut than others, but certain factors have been identified to be aware of when considering the risk. For instance, those with a family history of food allergies and asthma are more likely to develop an allergy to peanuts.
The good news is that as much as a quarter of those children who do develop allergic reactions will outgrow them by adulthood.
Diagnosis of an allergy to peanuts is normally instigated after a parent reports symptoms similar to those known to be related to the allergy, or else when medical attention is required for one or more of those symptoms.
The medical assessment should comprise a vigilant history of the actions that took place before the symptoms became manifest, taking special care to be aware of any potential hidden sources of peanut exposure. An allergic reaction to peanut exposure can manifest itself in just minutes. Allergists are very useful in diagnosing peanut butter allergies, which can be carried out with a RAST test (a blood test checking immunologic responses to specific molecules, such as the allergens in peanuts). When giving the medical history of someone who may have suffered an allergic reaction it is important to provide information on their own food allergies or any history of food allergies in the family.
Treatment for peanut allergies includes antihistamines which serve to reduce the most common symptoms of peanut allergies related to release of histamine into the bloodstream. Typically, antihistamines are used after exposure to peanuts has already taken place, with the intent of controlling the severity and intensity of the discomfort associated with the symptoms.
Unfortunately, medication in the form of antihistamine can only provide temporary relief and does nothing at all to actually prevent a recurrence.
There is only one way that someone suffering such an allergy can be sure of avoiding the symptoms altogether and that involves prevention through abstention.
The only surefire guarantee of staving off the unpleasant effects of a peanut allergy is to avoid peanuts completely.
Obviously, this is easier said than done considering the plethora of products that contain peanut-related ingredients.
Even the best laid plans of peanut butter avoiders can go awry, however, and when accidents happen to those suffering from this particular kind of allergy the result, it is important to remember, can be just as fatal as a mousetrap snapping down upon an unsuspecting rodent. For that reason, anyone who knows they are subject to anaphylactic shock as a result of an extreme reaction to eating peanut butter should carry emergency injectable epinephrine with them at all times.
If that isn’t possible, then it is imperative to let emergency response teams or whoever may be taking someone suffering an extreme reaction to the emergency room know the circumstances of the reaction.