Why Has There Been a Rise in Peanut Allergies?

April 14, 2024

by  | Apr 14, 2024 | Healthy Living

Dining out has always been your go-to way to unwind. When a new restaurant opens, you’re quick to grab a reservation. But a recent dinner at a favorite spot left your partner with stomach cramps, prompting her to wonder if, like her sister, she has a peanut allergy. You’re not alone in this concern—peanut allergies are becoming more common, affecting not just children but adults too. Let’s dive into why peanut allergies are on the rise and what might be causing it.

Understanding Peanut Allergies

Peanut allergies are not only one of the most common food allergies but also among the most severe. Between 2010 and 2017, peanut allergies among children in the U.S. increased by 21%, with an estimated 2.5% of children now affected. Moreover, over 200,000 people in the U.S. need emergency treatment for food allergies every year. This isn’t just a U.S. problem; it’s happening across Western nations.

Although the name suggests otherwise, peanuts aren’t true nuts. They’re legumes, like peas and soybeans. Despite this, they can cause severe allergic reactions, and often those with peanut allergies also react to other tree nuts like almonds and walnuts. If you’re allergic to peanuts, you may be wondering why this allergy is so prevalent.

Why Are Peanut Allergies Becoming More Common?

Here are some factors contributing to the rise in peanut allergies:

  • Genetics: If a parent or sibling has peanut allergies, a child’s risk of developing them increases. About 20% of peanut allergies can be linked to certain genes.
  • Hygiene Hypothesis: This theory suggests that our cleaner lifestyles, with frequent washing and less exposure to germs, may lead to immune systems that attack harmless substances like peanut proteins. As we lead more indoor lives and families get smaller, our immune systems may not be getting the “training” they need to distinguish between harmful and harmless invaders.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency: Vitamin D plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system. With less outdoor time and a rise in vitamin D deficiency, our bodies may be more prone to allergic reactions.

What Are the Symptoms of a Peanut Allergy?

Peanut allergy symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Hives
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Swelling around the lips or eyes
  • Stomach cramps, indigestion, or diarrhea
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Repetitive cough
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction, can occur within minutes of exposure to peanuts. It can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, swelling of the throat, and difficulty breathing, requiring immediate use of an epinephrine auto-injector and emergency medical treatment.

How Can Peanut Allergies Be Managed?

If you suspect you have a peanut allergy, here are some steps to manage it:

  1. Carry Epinephrine Auto-injectors: Always have at least two on hand, and ensure everyone knows how to use them in case of an emergency.
  2. Read Food Labels: Be vigilant about checking labels for peanut content. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires food manufacturers to clearly label peanut-containing products.
  3. Avoid Cross-Contamination: Even if a dish doesn’t contain peanuts, it could be contaminated. This is especially true in restaurants.
  4. Keep a Food Diary: If you’re not sure what’s causing your reactions, a food diary can help you and your allergist pinpoint the source.
  5. Seek Medical Advice: Always consult with a medical professional for proper testing and treatment advice.

Innovations in Treatment

For children aged 4 to 17 with documented peanut allergies, oral immunotherapy or epicutaneous therapy might help. These treatments involve introducing tiny amounts of peanuts to build tolerance and reduce the risk of severe reactions or anaphylaxis. However, they come with risks, and anaphylaxis is possible, requiring emergency medical attention.

Peanut allergies can pose significant challenges, but understanding the causes and taking preventive measures can help manage them. By staying informed, carrying emergency medications, and working with medical professionals, you can navigate life with a peanut allergy safely. If you or someone you know experiences a severe allergic reaction, visit AFC Urgent Care Cleveland for prompt and compassionate care.

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