Defining Nut Allergies
Nut allergies develop when the body’s immune system becomes over-sensitive to a specific protein. Exposure to the protein, even in minute amounts, causes a total body allergic reaction that can become fatal if First Aid treatment is not immediately given.
Nuts are one of the most common triggers for anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is the severe reaction that all allergies trigger in the immune system and, left untreated, can result in death. Thankfully, with the right First Aid and treatment, most lives can be saved before disaster strikes.
What Is The Protein In Nuts Causing The Problem?
“The reported prevalence of tree nut allergy is up to 4.9% worldwide. The general term “tree nuts” comprises a number of nuts, seeds, and drupes, derived from trees from different botanical families. For hazelnut and walnut, several allergens have been identified which are already partly applied in component resolved diagnosis, while for other tree nuts such as macadamia, coconut, and Brazil nut, only individual allergens were identified, and data on additional allergenic proteins are missing.
• Hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, and cashews are potent sources of allergenic proteins.
• The majority of tree nut allergens belong to the families of 2S albumins, vicilins, legumins, and nsLTPs.
• Bet v 1 homologues and profilins are associated with mild symptoms (pollen food syndrome).
• nsLTPs and seed storage proteins are related to severe reactions.
• High sequence identity within protein families is indicative for clinical cross-reactivity.”
Increasing Nut Allergy Prevalence
Nut allergies are becoming increasingly more prevalent in children globally with each passing generation, and the exact cause and reason for that is unknown. There are multiple theories, some of which have been debunked and some of which are still being researched heavily.
The predisposition to blame genetics is common but unfounded as many new cases in children occur in families that have never had nut allergies in their bloodline or family tree.
We are then left to ask what is going on with genetic modification of natural foods, what are the pharmaceutical companies putting into our medications, vitamins and foods that open previously closed doors to the frighteningly increased and rising number of people with nut allergies.
According to Heath Direct Australia’s nut allergy website:
“About 1 in 5 children with a nut allergy will need emergency medical attention at some point. Very sensitive people can have a reaction if they are exposed to tiny traces of nuts: for example, through eating, breathing or simply touching a nut.
About 2 in 100 people have a nut allergy. Nut allergy is most common in infants and young children but sometimes appears for the first time in adults. About 3 in 100 infants have a peanut allergy. About 1 in 5 of these will grow out of it, but the rest are likely to have peanut allergy into adulthood. About 1 in 3 people with a nut allergy are allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts, such as almonds, macadamia nuts and cashews.”
Clarification On What Is A Nut And What Is A Seed
Peanuts, Pine nuts and Coconuts are not nuts! They are all seeds.
Peanuts are a legume that grows on a shrub underground in a similar way to potatoes. You can be allergic to peanuts but be able to eat all of the tree nuts. You can be allergic to tree nuts and be able to eat peanuts. The two can be mutually exclusive of each other or go hand-in-hand.
Having an allergy to one specific nut does not mean that you are allergic to ALL nuts.
Pine nuts are a seed of the pine tree, and allergies to them are also as rare as hen’s teeth, even in people with known nut allergies.
A nut is defined as a one-seeded fruit, and a coconut is a fruit without seeds. The coconut flesh is itself the seed that germinates to grow a new coconut tree. However, despite the fact that a coconut is not a true nut, it is often labelled in the same family.
Allergies to coconut flesh are exceptionally rare. Contact dermatitis is slightly more likely from the husk but still rarer than hen’s teeth.
A true nut, such as the acorn or cashew, is indehiscent or does not open at maturity to release its seeds.
People can be allergic to different types of nuts. The most common ones are tree nuts like almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts.
What Causes A Nut Allergy?
Debate rages across the scientific sector. It is believed but not proven that children can become sensitised to nuts through breast milk, close contact with people who eat a lot of nuts, or skin massage with oils containing nut protein. Not that many baby products contain nut proteins. Certainly, none of the big commercial companies admit to it on their manufacturing list of content ingredients, except for the small indie, natural product lines solely dedicated to using only natural ingredients.
Vaccinations are another widely held source up for scrutiny as to being the source of the global increase in human resistance to a host of formerly negligible allergies across the board. As with any debate, it depends on who funds the research as to the result they get, and both sides claim proof that debunks the other. Eggs are routinely used to conduct experiments and culture viruses and vaccines and have been linked correlatively to the rise in allergies to egg products globally.
Another theory is that society consumes and uses nuts in more products than ever. This rise in the trend to use nuts in foods and products that do not normally contain them may be a correlative cause for the rise in nut allergies.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Nut Allergy?
A mild allergic reaction to nuts still puts you at risk of anaphylaxis in the future.
A mild reaction to nuts may cause the following symptoms:
- Hives or welts on the skin
- Swelling of the face, lips, and eyes
- Vomiting, stomach pains or diarrhoea
Anaphylaxis symptoms include:
- Swollen, tight throat
- Difficult/noisy breathing
- Swollen tongue
- Difficulty talking
- Hoarse voice
- Persistent coughing
- Becoming pale, floppy, and unresponsive in young children
Anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening and needs emergency medical treatment. You can read more about anaphylaxis on the FACE blog website.
How Are Nut Allergies Treated?
If a person has reacted to eating a specific food, in this case, nuts, the first step is to see your doctor immediately. They will refer you to an allergy specialist who will do skin and blood tests to establish exactly what you are allergic to. You may be allergic to several different types of nuts or just the one.
At present, there is no cure for nut allergies. The only proven treatment is to completely avoid exposure to the nuts or products that cause you to have an allergic reaction. Research is underway into how to prevent nut allergies in people who may be at risk and how to ‘switch off’ nut allergies using immunotherapy.
If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, you may be given an adrenaline autoinjector (EpiPen or Anapen). You should also have an anaphylaxis action plan that allows everyone else knows what to do if you are exposed to nuts and have entered anaphylaxis.
Living With A Nut Allergy
Whoever said that life wasn’t meant to be easy probably had an allergy to deal with. You only have to pick up a product and read the lack of the label, and it will say that it was manufactured in an environment that produces nut products and therefore has a warning label the food might be cross-contaminated in some random act they are never responsible for as their production lines are … blah, blah, blah.
The onus is ultimately on the person with the allergy to ensure their own safety and survival. That information is only as readily available as the manufacturers choose to disclose the truth and to what extent. Having said that, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of having an allergic reaction, and they include:
- Always read food labels.
- Take care with sharing cutlery and utensils, kitchen surfaces, barbecue plates, and shared condiments that might be contaminated.
- Be careful when kissing or hugging someone who has eaten nuts, as traces can stay on the hands, lips, teeth, and facial hair.
- Take extra care when eating out. Asian foods can be particularly risky, although nuts are also often used in pesto, salad dressings, and other foods you might not consider.
- Always carry a supply of safe food with you when travelling.
- Be careful when eating other nut products. You potentially have an increased risk of developing an allergy to a new nut.
- Always carry your adrenaline autoinjector with you.
- Tell others about your allergy, wear a medic alert bracelet, and carry with your EpiPen an action plan that tells others what to do if you enter anaphylaxis.
- If in doubt, do not eat the food.
- Children should take their own food to school and parties and should not share or swap food with other children. They may need to eat in a separate area from other children who are eating nuts and avoid playing with those children if exposure to nut dust particles falls to the extreme side of the allergy scale.
Read more about peanut, tree nut and seed allergies on the ASCIA website.
Get information on managing nut allergies from Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia