Peanut Allergies: What You Need to Know and How to Stay Safe

Dining out is one of your favorite activities, a great way to spend time with family and friends. But when someone at the table has a bad reaction to something they’ve eaten, it can be a wake-up call. Peanut allergies are becoming more common, and their potential severity means you can’t afford to ignore them. Let’s take a closer look at why peanut allergies are on the rise and how you can stay safe.

What Are Peanut Allergies?

Peanut allergies occur when the immune system identifies peanut proteins as harmful and overreacts, causing a range of symptoms from mild to severe. Unlike tree nuts such as almonds or walnuts, peanuts belong to the legume family, along with peas and soybeans. However, peanut allergies can be just as dangerous, with reactions that might occur within minutes of exposure.

Why Are Peanut Allergies Increasing?

Several factors contribute to the growing prevalence of peanut allergies. Here are a few:

  • Genetics: If someone in your family has a peanut allergy, there’s a higher chance you or your children might develop one as well. Certain genes have been linked to an increased risk of peanut allergies.
  • Hygiene Hypothesis: This theory suggests that as our lives become more sanitized, our immune systems might overreact to harmless substances like peanut proteins because they’re not exposed to enough germs to build tolerance.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency: Vitamin D plays a key role in supporting the immune system, and a lack of it might increase the risk of allergic reactions. Spending more time indoors and using sunscreen could lead to lower vitamin D levels.

What Are the Symptoms of Peanut Allergies?

Peanut allergies can present a range of symptoms, varying from mild to severe. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Hives or rash
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Swelling of the lips, eyes, or throat
  • Stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Sneezing, coughing, or wheezing
  • Dizziness, fainting, or low blood pressure
  • Anaphylaxis, the most severe reaction, can be life-threatening. It can cause sudden swelling of the throat, breathing difficulties, or a rapid drop in blood pressure. If you suspect anaphylaxis, use an epinephrine auto-injector and seek emergency medical help immediately.

Managing Peanut Allergies

Managing peanut allergies requires vigilance and preparation. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Carry Epinephrine Auto-injectors: Always keep at least two on hand and ensure you know how to use them.
  2. Read Food Labels Carefully: The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires clear labeling of peanut-containing products, but it’s important to double-check.
  3. Avoid Cross-Contamination: Even if a dish doesn’t contain peanuts, cross-contamination can occur, especially in restaurants or shared kitchens.
  4. Seek Medical Advice: If you suspect a peanut allergy, consult an allergist for proper testing and guidance. Skin prick tests and blood tests can help diagnose allergies.
  5. Keep a Food Diary: This helps track what you eat and how you react, aiding in identifying potential allergens.

Living with Peanut Allergies: Foods to Avoid

Living with a peanut allergy means staying cautious and aware of where peanuts might hide. Here are some common sources:

  • Candy, chocolate, and desserts
  • Cookies and baked goods
  • Ice cream and snack foods
  • Sauces, especially in Asian, African, or Mexican cuisine
  • Cross-contamination is a significant risk, especially in restaurants. When dining out, inform the staff about your peanut allergy and ask about the potential for cross-contamination. Even if a dish doesn’t contain peanuts, surfaces or utensils used to prepare it might have had contact with peanuts.

Peanut allergies can be serious and are becoming more common. Understanding the reasons behind this rise and knowing how to manage the risks is crucial. By carrying epinephrine auto-injectors, reading food labels carefully, and being cautious about cross-contamination, you can reduce your risk. If you suspect a peanut allergy, seek one of our North Carolina locations for proper guidance. When in doubt, it’s always better to be cautious. With the right approach, you can live with peanut allergies while minimizing the risks.