Allergy to nuts

Considering nuts can find their way into the most unthinkable foods — if you are allergic to them — you ought to exercise caution!

nut allergy

Nuts are known to cause the most severe type of food allergies.

There are tree nuts (nuts that grow on trees) and peanuts, which are actually legumes (grow underground) and belong to the same family as peas.

The proteins in peanuts are similar in structure to those in tree nuts, therefore, those who are allergic to it can be allergic to tree nuts and vice versa.

Some common nuts:

  • Walnuts, pecans
  • Cashew pistachios
  • Almond
  • Hazelnut
  • Brazil nut
  • Macadamia nut
  • Pine nut
  • Chestnut
  • Peanuts

Causes of nut allergy:

As per one theory, a nut allergy could start in the womb if the pregnant woman consumes nuts or can be passed on to the child during breastfeeding, but research is still inconclusive as to why it happens.

If you suffer from atopy (asthma, eczema or hay fever), you are at a higher risk of developing allergy to nuts.

Most people who are allergic to nuts can develop a reaction even when they consume the tinest amounts of it. That’s exactly what makes this allergy dangerous. In fact, even close contact with a person eating nuts can trigger a reaction.

Some people who are allergic to peanuts may also be allergic to tree nuts and vice versa. However, people allergic to a certain type of nut may be able to consume other nuts safely. Almond is known ti be the least likely nut to cause an allergy.

For more on symptoms of nut allergies and how a nut acts as an allergen and effects an allergic response please refer to article on Introduction to allergies.

Diagnosing nut allergy:

In infants, a food allergy can be easily diagnosed — if one new food is introduced at a time. In children and adults, a strong suspicion can be confirmed by your health practitioner who may ask you to keep a record of foods consumed. Or you may be referred to an allergist.

An ELISA test (a biochemical technique used to detect the presence of an antibody or an antigen in a sample) can demonstrate Immunoglobulin E, antibodies in the blood in response to an allergen.

A ‘Food Challenge’ can be of value when trying to pinpoint the cause of an allergy. Your doctor will ask you to completely eliminate one food for 10-14 days, and then interpret the results. If the symptoms are the same as before, that particular food is unlikely to have caused the allergy.

Treatment for nut allergy

Allergies to nuts can be potentially life-threatening as nuts are used in a variety of savories.

The best way to keep this allergy at bay would be to take preventive measures.

In case of a severe reaction called anaphylaxis (refer to our upcoming article: Severe allergic Reactions).

For mild reactions, the treatment involves using anti-histaminics, which are easily available over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Prevention of nut allergy

  • Identifying the source of nuts is the first step before avoiding them completely. Nuts are widely present in sweets, chocolates, cookies, candies, cakes, breakfast cereals, energy bars and muffins.
  • Many packaged foods contain labels like ‘may contain traces of nuts’. Avoid these completely. Read all food labels carefully before buying.
  • When eating outside, inform the waiter /friend about your allergy as soon as possible. If possible, speak directly to the chef. Indian, Thai, Mexican and Mediterranean food often use nuts or their oils while cooking.
  • If your child has this allergy, caution her about accepting treats in school or at homes of friends. Relatives and teachers should be made aware of this health risk. Being safe is better than being sorry.
  • Buying ice-cream from an ice-cream parlour could be risky as the same scoop may be used for ice-creams containing nuts. Same theory applies to eating at buffets and parties.
  • Look out for words like groundnut, groundnut oil, mixed nuts, monkey nut, earth nut, peanut butter and arachis oil, which are used instead of peanuts.
  • As a rule pine nut, chestnut, coconut and nutmeg do not cause allergies and can be safely consumed by people allergic to other nuts.

Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, general physician

Photograph via sxc.hu