What Can You Tell Me About My Peanut Allergy?

Through trial and error, I have discovered that I have a major allergy to peanuts — ingesting them causes severe asthma (from which I have never suffered before). What are the symptoms and medical ramifications of this sensitivity? I am unable to find answers regarding this problem. What will it mean if I need a tetanus shot, or an antibiotic shot — many of which are given in a peanut oil base? Am I going to have problems with other nuts, too? I am taking a total break from related foods for a couple of months at this point, hoping to decrease my reaction.

You are describing a severe allergic reaction which is potentially life-threatening, and you must take several careful steps to protect yourself in the future.

Severe, life-threatening allergic reactions are called anaphylactic reactions. They are more commonly seen in people who receive a drug to which they are allergic, penicillin for example, or who are very allergic to bee or wasp venoms and are stung by one of those insects. Severe anaphylaxis because of food allergies is not as common, but definitely can occur, and is often related to an allergy to peanuts.

Serious difficulty in breathing, which is similar to an asthma attack, is one component of anaphylaxis. Swelling of the lips and throat, to the point that one is unable to breathe, can also occur. Severe hives may be a symptom. What we call cardiovascular collapse, with an extreme drop in blood pressure and shock, may occur and is immediately life-threatening if not treated. Today’s writer appears only to have the bronchial constriction which produces asthmatic type wheezing, and it has so far been something she can cope with, but because the reaction may become more severe with repeated exposures, I think it is crucial that she see her doctor quickly, and perhaps ask for a referral to an allergist.

People subject to severe allergic reactions such as this should wear a medical alert bracelet which says that they are subject to anaphylaxis, and what they are allergic to. This is most important because she may sometime have a reaction so quick and so severe that she loses consciousness before being able to tell people around her what is going on. She should carry a syringe preloaded with epinephrine so that she can inject herself promptly at the first sign of a reaction. This will require a prescription from her doctor. In some cases, particularly in people sensitive to bee stings, it is possible to desensitize the person with allergy shots. This would require consultation and testing by an allergist, and I am not sure that it is feasible for someone allergic to peanuts.

Allergy to nuts is one of the most common food allergies, probably more common than shellfish allergies. You will almost certainly not outgrow this allergy; indeed the reactions will probably become more severe over time. I would strongly urge you to see an allergist before you make any attempt to test to see if you still have the allergy, even after many months of avoiding peanuts. Peanut allergy can be particularly troublesome, because people may have their allergy precipitated by peanut oil used in cooking. While it is fairly easy to never eat peanuts, in restaurants one may be served food cooked with peanut oil without being aware of it. You should always mention the allergy to the waiter when you eat out, and ask if peanut oil is used in any of the restaurant’s cooking. Obviously eating in Chinese restaurants, which use large amounts of peanut oil, will require very special care. You must also become compulsive about reading food labels, since peanuts or peanut oil are also found in cookies, candy, and pastries.

I think you need not be too concerned about getting shots of medication. Obviously, you should always mention the allergy to any doctor prescribing for you, but very few injections these days come in oil of any kind. Certainly a tetanus shot and all the antibiotic shots I can think of come in water-based solutions.

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