Diseases & Conditions
More than three million Americans are currently allergic to nuts and peanuts, including one out of every 200 children, and the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. (Peanut allergies and nut allergies are actually different allergies. Peanuts do not grow on trees and are not true nuts. It is possible to be allergic to tree nuts and not peanuts, or to peanuts and not tree nuts, or to both.) Peanut and tree nut allergies are the leading cause of severe or fatal food-allergic reactions; they are also a cheap source of dietary protein predominantly eaten in peanut butter and snack nuts. Unfortunately, more and more nut products are ﬁnding their way into food products either directly or by indirect contamination of food products during the manufacturing process.
Nuts and peanuts may masquerade on a food label as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” or “groundnuts,” and it is important to realize that for the sensitive person, this lifelong allergy can be fatal in even trace amounts.
Life-threatening nut and peanut allergies can kill in two ways. As the food is swallowed, it produces immediate swelling that spreads to the vocal cords. When the vocal cords swell shut, the child is unable to breathe and can die with terrifying rapidity. The second reaction is anaphylactic shock: The child swallows and digests the food and up to two hours later can go into shock and die.
Most of the time, children with known nut allergies have an allergic reaction when nuts masquerade as a hidden ingredient, perhaps in a cake, cupcake, or even something as innocuous as chili. Many food servers do not realize that being asked if something has nuts in it also refers to nuts in ALL forms, including peanut butter or walnut oil.
Certain children are more likely to develop a nut or peanut allergy, including those with asthma or a family history of asthma, eczema, or hay fever, or those with infantile digestive problems and possible genetic links to nut sensitivities.
Parents can try to prevent nut and peanut allergies from developing in their children, such as maintaining a smoke-free environment at home (beginning before birth), breast-feeding (while avoiding nuts and peanuts during nursing), and delaying the introduction of nuts and peanuts in those children at risk for allergies.