In a Nutshell: Understanding Peanut Allergies
Peanuts are tasty treats. But they also can trigger serious allergic reactions in
some people. If your child is allergic to peanuts, here’s what you need to know.
Signs of a peanut allergy
Despite its name, the peanut isn’t a nut at all. It’s actually a legume. Legumes are
plants that grow underground. The group includes beans, peas, and lentils.
Peanuts may not seem to have much in common with milk, eggs, or wheat either. But
like these foods, they are at the top of the food allergy list. Even the slightest
trace of a peanut can cause a reaction in children who are allergic to them. And more
and more children seem to be developing this serious food allergy.
Your child may be allergic to peanuts if he or she has these symptoms after eating
or coming into contact with them.
Call your child's healthcare provider right away for common symptoms such as:
Call 911 for more serious symptoms, or for a severe, possibly life-threatening allergic reaction
(anaphylaxis). Serious symptoms include:
Trouble breathing, talking, swallowing, or drooling
Any change in level of alertness or unconsciousness
Cool, moist, or pale (or blue in color) skin
Fast heartbeat or weak pulse and feeling weak
Wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath
Feeling lightheaded or confused or dizzy
Very drowsy or has trouble waking up
Swelling of the tongue, face, or lips
Diarrhea, belly pain, or stomach cramps
Chest pain or tightness
Steps for managing the allergy
Many children develop a peanut allergy early in life. A number of tests can help find
out if your child has a peanut allergy. A common one is a skin prick test. Your child’s
healthcare provider will scratch your child’s skin with a small amount of peanut extract.
If your child’s skin becomes red and swollen in the test area, a peanut allergy is
It’s important to know that your child may test positive for a peanut allergy but
not have a reaction. Food allergy tests (both skin tests and blood tests) may have
"false positive" results. This mean that the test is positive for food allergy, but
your child can eat the food without any issues. This may happen if your child has
certain seasonal allergies or bad eczema. The healthcare provider will use the test
results, a physical exam, and your child's history of reactions and exposures to help
find out if a peanut allergy is likely.
Unfortunately, a peanut allergy can’t be cured. And few children outgrow it. So staying
away from peanuts and foods that contain them has long been the key strategy for managing
the allergy. Many different foods can have peanuts or peanut residue in them. Peanuts
can hide in foods such as baked goods, salad dressings, chili sauce, candy, and even
A medicine is now available to treat peanut allergy in children. The FDA-approved
medicine is for children and teens ages 4 to 17. A child with a confirmed peanut allergy
can start taking the medicine at age 4. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider
to find out if this medicine can help your child. If your child is taking this medicine,
continue to make sure they don’t eat any peanuts or peanut products.
To help protect your allergic child, follow these tips:
When grocery shopping, check every item’s food label for peanuts. Check the label
even if your child has eaten that food in the past.
Tell all restaurants and servers about your child's food allergy.
Always keep medicine on hand. An epinephrine auto-injector can help stop a severe
allergic reaction. Make sure that you understand when and how to use this medicine.
Work with your child’s healthcare provider to create a care plan in case of an emergency.
If your child has a serious allergy, have him or her wear a medical alert bracelet
that notes this allergy.
Tell all care providers and school staff about your child's allergy. Show them how
to use any prescribed medicine.
For a life-threatening allergy, make certain that on-site school staff know how to
give epinephrine to counter a severe reaction. If even 1 dose of epinephrine is used,
the child should be transported to the ER and stay there for at least 4 hours because
symptoms may return. Have emergency response instructions in writing. Put them in
places that are easily accessed.
Can you help prevent a peanut allergy in your child?
Newer research suggests you may be able to help prevent a peanut allergy, mainly in
young children at high risk for it. Infants at high risk for the allergy include those
who already have other food allergies. Or babies who have the skin condition eczema.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, introducing
peanut-containing products in the first year of life (4 to 6 months) may help prevent
the allergy. For some children it is advised to do testing before introducing peanuts.
For other children, testing is not needed. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider
first to see what is right for your child. Never give any child younger than age 4
whole or partial peanuts. They can be a choking hazard.