It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. But for someone who is allergic to peanuts, it takes just one peanut to create a life-threatening medical event. And avoidance of peanuts is very difficult because peanuts are commonly used as an additive in the preparation of foods.
The peanut is America’s favorite legume:
- The world’s largest peanut butter factory churns out 250,000 jars every day.
- Four of the top 10 candy bars manufactured in the U.S. contain peanuts or peanut butter.
- Peanuts account for two-thirds of all snack nuts consumed in the U.S.
- Peanuts contribute more than $4 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
- Americans spend almost $800 million a year on peanut butter.
- The average American consumes more than six pounds of peanuts and peanut butter products each year.
- The average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he/she graduates from high school.
- Americans consume on average over 1.5 billion pounds of peanut butter and peanut products each year.
- Peanut butter is consumed in 90 percent of American households.
- The amount of peanut butter eaten in a year could wrap the earth in a ribbon of 18-ounce peanut butter jars one and one-third times.
How many people are allergic to peanuts?
“With the prevalence of peanuts in the American diet, it’s no wonder that there is increasing concern when there’s so much news coverage on peanut allergies in the past few years – leading people to think there is a growing trend of peanut allergies,” said Dr. Todd Levin, who is double-board certified by the American Board of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the American Board of Pediatrics.
However, he pointed out that the numbers released by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) show that only 0.6 - 1.0 percent of people have a mild to more severe peanut allergy, and studies show that about 20 percent of peanut allergies can be outgrown. (By comparison, about four times as many adults are allergic to seafood.)
Nearly 90 percent of food allergies are caused by these common foods: tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, etc.), peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat and soy.
As with all allergies, those with a family history of allergy, asthma, or eczema, may be at increased risk.
What are the symptoms of peanut allergy?
Most allergic reactions are not life threatening – gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory symptoms – but some can lead to a more severe reaction known as “anaphylaxis,” where blood pressure drops abruptly and the airways and throat swell, which lead to breathing difficulties. When this is not controlled, unconsciousness and death can occur, so it is important to know how to manage severe allergies, whether they are food or non-food related.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for peanut allergy and no therapies that eliminate or reduce the severity of peanut allergy. Current treatments only address the symptoms of an allergic reaction once it has taken place. (The American Peanut Council)
Strict avoidance of peanut and peanut-ingredient is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The American Peanut Council)
To prevent an allergic reaction, the best recommendation to those with peanut allergy is to avoid intake. To minimize the risk of being exposed to allergens, which may occur by accident, there are also important strategies that can be taken.
- Read labels - which highlight allergens on the ingredient list.
- Plan ahead - when dining out or attending a party. Call ahead to notify friends, talk with restaurant staff, or use a “chef card,” which lists ingredients to avoid and can be found at the Food Allergy Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) website at www.foodallergy.org/downloads.html.
- Practice proper sanitation - with common cleaning agents, such as hot, soapy water to remove cross contamination.
- Carry medicine - such as epinephrine injector pens, which are also referred to as EpiPens. They must be used within 10 minutes but can provide the time necessary to seek medical attention. Epinephrine is a hormone that is released during stress. It boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles, while suppressing other non-emergency bodily processes, such as digestion.
- Control asthma - with proper medical care since asthma is a main risk factor for death due to anaphylaxis.
- Let people know – by wearing a bracelet or necklace identifying the allergy and its severity.
What Causes Peanut Allergy?
The major proteins Ara h1, Ara h2, and Ara h3 are the allergens in peanuts. Both genetic and environmental factors may be involved. Family history, occurrence of eczema-type skin rashes and exposure to soy protein were associated with the development of peanut allergy in childhood in one study. The most current data does not support the theory that if peanuts are eaten during pregnancy or infancy there is a greater chance that the child will end up with the allergy.
For more information on food allergies, contact your board certified allergist, who can test you. Food allergies affect between 4 percent and 8 percent of children and between 1 percent and 2 percent of adults. The majority of children outgrow their food allergies, and the foods can safely be reintroduced when they are older.
The diagnosis of a suspected food allergy begins with a medical history and a physical examination. It is confirmed with the detection of peanut-specific IgE, either by means of a skin prick test or fluoroenzyme immunoassay (Pharmacia ImmunoCAP-FEIA). When there is doubt about the diagnosis, oral food challenges can be performed.
In addition to getting a handle on your food allergies, the board-certified allergists at Chattanooga Allergy Clinic can help you get control of hay fever, asthma, pet allergies, chronic sinus infections, chronic hives, eczema, drug allergies, insect allergies and immune (IgG) deficiency.