A food allergy is very different to a food intolerance.
Many people have various intolerances, but intolerances cause a slower immune response than allergies do.
An Immunoglobulin E (IgE) response causes an immediate reaction to what the body considers a foreign object, whereas an IgG reaction is more subtle and causes reactions that can be more difficult to identify or to attribute to a specific food.
With a food allergy, the body mistakes harmless food for a serious threat to the immune system.
In trying to protect you, your body reacts in a severe way.
An allergic response to something like peanuts usually occurs within minutes after exposure. Direct or indirect contact with peanuts can cause your immune system to react.
Peanut allergy signs and symptoms can include:
- Skin reactions, such as hives, redness or swelling
- Itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat
- Digestive problems, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting
- Tightening of the throat
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Runny nose
A peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is is a medical emergency that requires instant treatment with a portable injection containing epinephrine (adrenaline), such as an EpiPen, followed by an immediate trip to the emergency room.
Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms can include:
- Constriction of airways
- Swelling of the throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- A severe drop in blood pressure (shock)
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, light-headedness or loss of consciousness
Other foods that can cause serious allergic reactions include:
With peanuts, exposure can occur in various ways:
- Direct contact. The most common cause of peanut allergy is eating peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Sometimes direct skin contact, so even touching them or a surface that has had peanuts on it can trigger an allergic reaction.
- Cross-contact. This is the unintended introduction of peanuts into a product. It’s generally the result of a food being exposed to peanuts during processing or handling like in a factory that packages nuts as well as other foods.
- Inhalation. An allergic reaction may occur if you inhale dust or aerosols containing peanuts from a source such as peanut flour or peanut oil cooking spray.
Although it’s there is no specific predicting factor, some people are at a higher risk for developing a peanut allergy. These include:
- Age. Food allergies are most common in children, especially toddlers and infants. As you grow older, your digestive system matures, and your body is less likely to react to food that triggers allergies.
- Past allergy to peanuts. Some children with peanut allergy outgrow it. However, even if you seem to have outgrown peanut allergy, it may recur.
- Other allergies. If you’re already allergic to one food, you may be at increased risk of becoming allergic to another. Likewise, having another type of allergy, such as hay fever, increases your risk of having a food allergy.
- Family members with allergies. You’re at increased risk of peanut allergy if other allergies, especially other types of food allergies, are common in your family.
- Atopic dermatitis. Some people with the skin condition atopic dermatitis (eczema) also have a food allergy.
Although serious, food allergies can be managed, but avoidance of trigger foods is key. It’s important to read labels and ask questions about ingredients used in restaurants and anywhere where you are not cooking yourself.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 19 November to learn more.
Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am