Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies in children today, and it's becoming more prevalent. Sadly, it can be deadly, so it's important to learn about its causes and what to do if your child has a reaction.
HOW ALLERGIES HAPPEN
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system. The immune system is designed to identify intruders, like bacteria, that could make us sick and fight them. An army of white blood cells is sent out to get rid of any dangerous substances in the body.
Sometimes, the immune system mistakenly reacts to things that are not harmful. This might cause a rash or a runny nose. However, in some cases, the immune system goes above and beyond and kicks into high gear. Unfortunately, this reaction can cause swelling which prevents a person from breathing and could kill them, if not controlled.
This hyper-response is usually the case for people who are allergic to peanuts. To make it worse, even touching a surface that has been contaminated with peanut oils can trigger symptoms.
REACTIONS TO PEANUT ALLERGY
The most severe allergic reaction to peanuts is anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a whole-body response to an allergen. A person in anaphylactic shock swells visibly all over their body. This response can be deadly and requires immediate treatment.
To stop anaphylaxis, a person must receive a dose of epinephrine (adrenaline) typically administered with an auto-injector called an epi-pen. This works by essentially flooding the body with super strength to stop the allergic reaction.
Kids with a peanut allergy should carry an EpiPen at all times, or their teacher should have one stored close at hand, and know how to administer it.
Peanut allergy can cause other reactions including: vomiting, stomach cramps, indigestion, and diarrhea. Kids reacting to peanuts might also: wheeze, have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat, or a hoarse voice. Their pulse may be weak, and their skin may turn pale or bluish in color. They may break out in hives or show visible swelling; noticeable in the tongue or lips. They may become dizzy or confused. Any of these signs should be considered an emergency and could lead to anaphylaxis.
MANAGING A PEANUT ALLERGY
Kids who are allergic to peanuts must be very cautious about what they eat. They also need to be aware of what others around them are munching on. They need to learn how to be aware of culprits, and leave immediately if they see peanuts or peanut butter. Smelling peanuts or coming into contact with their residue can trigger a reaction. Any foods containing nuts, or processed in the same factories as foods containing nuts, need to be avoided. Ideally, the child's classroom will be marked as a peanut-free classroom. This alerts children and their parents to not send food that has any triggers.
Teachers and other caretakers should be informed of a child's peanut allergy. They need to know the warning signs and how to administer an EpiPen, in the case of an emergency. The auto-injection is a simple procedure, but it is best for anyone who might need to use it to be trained.
PREVENTING PEANUT ALLERGY
There is no sure way to completely prevent any type of allergy. However, new research suggests that there may be a way to reduce the risk. The newest guidelines suggest that children who might be at risk for a peanut allergy, should try the food in a controlled environment, between four and six months of age, assuming solids have already been introduced. Of course, peanut butter is not suggested at this age nor are peanuts. Perhaps cooking with peanut oil is better suited. This is in contrast to previous guidelines, which suggested that parents wait until an older age to introduce common allergens like peanuts, eggs whites, or shellfish.
To avoid confusion and prevent potentially life-threatening situations, many schools have taken the plunge to be completely nut-free. At nut-free schools, peanut butter, peanuts, and foods containing tree nuts are banned. Parents who accidentally pack such foods may need to come by with another meal, or the food might be confiscated and replaced by the school cafeteria.
At some schools, kids who bring foods containing nuts must eat at a separate table. However, this isn't always safe enough. Not too long ago, kids with allergies were separated at mealtimes, which hardly seems kind. Nut-free policies in schools make sense, considering how common this deadly allergy is among children.
PEANUT ALLERGY MIGHT NOT BE FOR LIFE
It was once thought that peanut allergy was a lifelong condition. However, new evidence now suggests that up to 20% of children allergic to peanuts may grow out of it over time. This is a relief for many.