Peanut Allergy

Peanut Allergy – Are you “in-the-know”?

Twelve Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District students have a medically confirmed peanut allergy. The youngest being in a 4K program, the eldest is a Junior in high school. There are students with peanut allergies in every school in the District and maybe in your child’s classroom.

So, you are asking yourself, how can I help?
• Read, Read, Read . . . inform yourself and your children. Become an avid label reader.
• Monitor birthday treats and snacks sent to school. Are they safe for all children?
• Practice “Safe Snacking” for all children visiting your home.
• Send “Safe Lunches” to school.
• Discourage lunch swapping.
• Discourage eating on the bus.
• Learn the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
• Learn CPR.

Peanut allergies are common and often appear in the first years of life. An allergic reaction to peanuts can range from a minor irritation to a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. While many children “outgrow” allergies to other foods such as milk or eggs, most children don’t “outgrow” a peanut allergy as they age.

Peanut allergy is the most prevalent food allergy in the United States, where as many as 1.5 million people suffer from the disease. Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food related death. Approximately 100 people in the United States die every year from an adverse peanut allergy reaction. Peanut allergy is responsible for 15,000 emergency room visits every year.

Peanut allergy is a disease affecting the immune system in which the body suffers from a range of symptoms after exposure to some of the proteins in peanuts. It is distinct and different from a nut allergy. A peanut is a legume whereas a tree nut is a dry fruit. While the signs and symptoms may be the same, a person with a peanut allergy may not have a nut allergy.

A standard peanut has about 200 mg of protein. Studies have shown that some people have an allergic reaction to just 2 mg, or about 1% of one peanut.

Peanut allergies aren’t the most common food allergies in America, (dairy in children and shellfish in adults), but they certainly have the highest profile. They are often severe and pose a major challenge to parents wanting to keep their kids safe in school or other public places. Persons who have a peanut allergy may react to traces of peanut proteins left on countertops and other surfaces. Peanut allergies sometimes wane with age, but 80% of the children diagnosed with a peanut allergy, will have it for life.

An allergic reaction is an abnormal immune system response to things that are normally harmless to most people. When one is allergic to something, the immune system incorrectly identifies this substance as harmful to one’s body. Allergens, such as certain foods, medicines, plant pollen or dust are substances that cause allergic reactions. If the allergen is breathed in, such as flower pollen, the reaction usually occurs in the nose and eyes. If the allergen is eaten, such as peanuts, then the reaction is usually in the mouth, tongue, throat and/or intestinal tract. If the allergen touches the skin, such as poison ivy, the allergic reaction is usually swelling or itching.

It isn’t clear why some people develop allergies while others don’t, but for some unknown reason the number of children with allergies, including peanut allergy is steadily increasing. A family history of food allergies may pose an increased risk of developing a peanut allergy. There are theories, the “hygiene hypothesis” proposes that children who are exposed to many microbes or allergy causing substances at an early age may develop immune systems that are more tolerant and less likely to react to peanuts and other potential allergens. Other experts suggest that the increased incidence of peanut allergy may reflect an increased awareness and reporting of food allergies or changes in the way peanuts are processed.

Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system develops allergy type antibodies to peanut proteins. Your immune system mistakenly identifies the proteins as something harmful. The next time the person comes in contact with peanuts, these antibodies recognize it and signal the immune system to release chemicals, such as histamine into the bloodstream, which leads to the signs and symptoms of an allergic response. The histamine causes one to itch, swell or have hives.

Types of Exposure:

  • Direct Contact. The most common cause of peanut allergy is eating peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Sometimes direct skin contact with peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Cross contact. This is the unintended introduction of peanuts into a product. It’s generally the result of exposure to peanuts during processing or handling a food product.
  • Inhalation. An allergic reaction may occur if you inhale dust or aerosols containing peanuts, such as peanut flout or peanut oil cooking spray.

Is it peanut allergy or a peanut intolerance?
It can be difficult to know whether one is allergic or intolerant to peanuts.

  • If one has a peanut intolerance, one can eat small amounts of peanuts with only mild symptoms, such as indigestion or heartburn. A peanut intolerance doesn’t involve one’s immune system.
  • An allergy involves an immune system response. Even a tiny amount of peanuts may trigger a serious allergic reaction. Tests can help determine if one has a true peanut allergy.

Prevention

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction to peanuts is to know and avoid foods that cause signs and symptoms. In some foods, peanuts may be well hidden. This is especially true in restaurants or social settings.

  • Read food labels carefully and avoid foods that may have come in contact with peanuts. Manufactured foods are required to clearly state whether foods contain any peanuts or if they were produced in factories that also process peanuts.
  • Avoid foods that contain peanuts. Peanuts are common and avoiding foods that contain them can be a challenge. The following foods often contain peanuts:
  • Ground or mixed nuts
  • Baked goods, such as cookies and pastries
  • Ice cream and frozen desserts
  • Energy Bars
  • Cereals and granola
  • Grain Breads
  • Less obvious foods that may contain peanut proteins:
  • Nougat
  • Salad dressings
  • Chocolate candies, nut butters, sunflower seeds
  • Cultural food including African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes often contain peanuts
  • Foods sold in bakeries and ice cream shops many come in contact with peanuts
  • Arachis oil (another name for peanut oil)

Prevention of an allergic reaction resulting from a peanut allergy comes down to dietary vigilance, which is much easier for adults than children. Children with a peanut allergy will be taught how to ask for help, tell others about their allergy, and ask for immediate help if they believe they might be having an allergic reaction. Children with a peanut allergy should wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace. Information on the ID should include the child’s name, allergy, emergency and medical contacts. A child with a peanut allergy should be discouraged from sharing foods. If you are pregnant or have a child under the age of three, you should discuss peanut use with your physician, even if there is no history of peanut allergy in your family.

Key People

The parent of the child should notify all persons that spend time with children with peanut allergies. Information about signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction should be shared with school personnel, daycare providers, child’s friends and their parents, coaches, etc.

  • Knowledge is key. An allergic reaction can be life threatening and requires immediate action.
  • Key people should learn how to use an EpiPen.

Signs and Symptoms

An allergic response to peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure and may range from a mild stomach or skin reaction to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can constrict the airways and block breathing.

Allergic Emergency Care Plan

Mild reaction:

  • Itching or tingling in or around the mouth/lips/throat
  • Itchy skin rash, hives or swelling
  • Stomach ache, cramps, diarrhea, vomiting

Treatment: Benadryl (Diphenhydramine, generic)

Severe reaction:

  • Throat: itching, tightness, hoarseness, hacking cough
  • Lungs: shortness of breath, repetitive cough, wheeze
  • Heart: rapid pulse, dizziness, low blood pressure, loss of consciousnes

Treatment: Inject EpiPen immediately, call 911

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for peanut allergy. First line of defense has been strict and vigilant dietary management and monitoring/avoiding places/situations for possible exposure. Possible contact with peanut proteins is always present, making for a difficult and sometimes inconvenient lifestyle.

Antihistamines: for some people with peanut allergy, antihistamines can be taken after exposure to peanuts, to counter an allergic reaction. Antihistamines are available over-the-counter without a prescription and can relieve some of the discomfort associated with the symptoms of peanut allergy.

Epinephrine: some people need to carry auto-injectable epinephrine, (EpiPen or TwinJet). A physician prescribes Epinephrine.

Peanut allergies pose unique challenges. People with peanut allergies must be vigilant about their diets and avoid contact with surfaces where traces of peanut may have been left behind. Please help us keep everyone safe at school; awareness, safe lunches/snacks and washing our hands frequently are good places to start.

Safe Snack List

The attached is a list of “Safe Snacks” for persons that do not have a peanut allergy to eat around those that do. Most important part, the label . . . . read, read, read.

This is NOT a list of “safe snacks” for peanut allergic children, rather a safe list for non-peanut allergic children to eat around your peanut allergic child.

Please note, products and their ingredients can change at any given time.

Always read the ingredients before you purchase a product.

Non Peanut Allergy Snack List

The Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District is a “Peanut Allergy Aware School District”.

If you have questions, please contact the school nurse.