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Peanut Allergy- A review by Sam Thewlis

Peanut Allergies

Allergies of all kinds are increasing across the Western world. Experts appear not to know the cause, but now recommend pregnant and nursing mothers avoid all peanuts to avoid  any possibility of sensitising the child at an early age.
A peanut allergy is not a true nut allergy, as peanuts, despite their name are not actually nuts, they are legumes. In simple terms, nuts grow on trees, and legumes such as peanuts, soya beans and other bean-type vegetables grow in the ground. As a result, someone with a peanut allergy is as likely to be allergic to soya or haricot beans as they are to hazelnuts or walnuts.
Peanut allergies normally present in childhood, and only about 30% of sufferers will grow out of the allergy, which is relatively low when compared with other common childhood allergies. Contrary to common belief, an allergic reaction does not occur on the first exposure to peanuts, but on the second or subsequent such exposure.
The reason for this is that when the body first comes into contact with an allergen, a substance which the body perceives as a threat, it develops antibodies to fight the substance, just the same as if it were a bacteria or viral infection. When the allergen is encountered for a second time, the antibodies are prepared for action and fight, which is what presents as an allergic reaction.
The presence of such antibodies can be easily detected in a simple blood test, which is the most effective way of testing for allergies, and often called a RAST test. Other tests such as skin-prick tests are available, but different people may have different reactions when an allergen comes into contact with skin, than when it is ingested. Also, people who suffer from similar conditions such as asthma or eczema are more likely to be allergic to certain foods, and a skin test may further aggravate their pre-existing condition.
The same antibodies may also result in a transferred reaction. Once the peanut antibodies are generated, it may mean that similar substances, such as beans or soya also trigger a reaction, albeit probably milder, by cross-transference of the antibodies so they attack the similar intruder.
Allergic reactions can range from mild through moderate symptoms which may include some or all of the following:
·         vomiting
·         fever
·         flushed skin
·         facial swelling (eyes, lips, nose)
·         watery eyes
·         runny nose
·         itching or skin sensitivity
Such reactions can be alarming, but can normally be treated with anti-histamine tablets or syrup, paracetamol and a cool flannel.
Severe symptoms of an allergic reaction may include all of the above plus:
·         swelling to nasal passages
·         tightness of throat and chest
·         breathing difficulties
·         a sense of impending doom
Such reactions are very dangerous and may lead to a potentially fatal condition called anaphylactic shock, which is where the affected person cannot breathe and eventually results in heart failure. Severe reactions can be quickly treated by an injection of ephenephrine(adrenaline), and sufferers are normally advised to carry an epi-pen (single dose shot) with them at all times. If a severe reaction is experienced, or anaphylactic shock is suspected, the affected person should receive emergency medical help.
There is no ‘cure’ for peanut allergy, and if sufferers do not grow out of the condition, they will need to carefully check ingredients of all their food to avoid triggering a reaction. Peanut allergy sufferers in particular may need to take particular care with some Asian cuisines which use peanuts to form sauces, such as Satay sauce. Peanut oils should not cause a reaction as they have been refined, and the proteins causing a reaction are normally removed. However, some sufferers may find such oil, also called ground nut oil, causes irritation.
Some hydrating creams used to contain a type of peanut oil, called arachis oil. However, given the increased incidence of allergies, and the greater awareness of the condition, it is unlikely and modern creams, particularly those prescribed for eczema will contain this ingredient. However, if in doubt, check the box or tube.
Interestingly, a recent study in Cambridge, England has successfully treated children suffering from severe peanut allergy by giving them small amounts of peanut flour every day. This treatment, increased from the tiniest dose up to the equivalent of five or six whole peanuts, effectively desensitises the body by building up resistance to the ‘harmful’ peanut. The initial pilot scheme has now been extended and offers a glimmer of hope to peanut sufferers across the world.
Anyone who suspects they or their child suffers from a  peanut allergy should seek medical advice not only to confirm the diagnosis, but also to monitor and manage the condition. Even if an initial reaction is mild, subsequent reactions may increase in severity. However, although, particularly with children, it is important for caregivers and associates to be aware of a peanut allergy, most people can live a relatively normal life, living with rather than living under the shadow of their condition.
published on Helium.com

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