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Guide to Cashew Allergy

What are the symptoms of a cashew allergy?

Allergies from cashews are often linked to severe and even fatal complications. It’s important to understand the symptoms and risk factors of this allergy.

The symptoms of a cashew allergy usually appear immediately after exposure to cashews. In rare situations, the symptoms start hours after exposure.

Symptoms of a cashew allergy include:

  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • runny nose
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble swallowing
  • itchy mouth and throat
  • anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that makes it difficult to breathe and sends your body into shock. Seek immediate medical attention if you think you are experiencing anaphylaxis.

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Complications

Complications

The most common complication from a cashew allergy is a systemic reaction, meaning it can affect the whole body. If the reaction is severe it can be life-threatening. Anaphylaxis affects the:

  • airways
  • heart
  • gut
  • skin

If you’re experiencing anaphylaxis, you may develop a swollen tongue and lips, and have difficulty speaking and breathing. You may also have a rapid decrease in blood pressure, which is known as anaphylactic shock. When this happens, you’ll become weak and may faint. This condition can also lead to death.

Most people start experiencing symptoms within seconds of exposure to cashews. This means you don’t necessarily have to ingest the cashews. You can have an anaphylactic reaction from breathing in cashew dust or touching the nuts with exposed skin. This all depends on the severity of your allergy.

Other complications of a cashew allergy include asthma, eczema, and hay fever.

Risk factors

Risk factors and cross-reactive foods

You’re at greater risk of a cashew allergy if you have other tree nut allergies, including almonds and walnuts. You’re also at a higher risk if you have a legume allergy, like peanuts. You have a 25 to 40 percent higher risk of developing a tree nut allergy if you already have a peanut allergy.

Learn more: Is nutmeg a tree nut? »

Avoiding products with peanuts can help you to avoid cross-contamination. That’s because cashews and peanuts are often used in the same food processing plant, which could lead to accidental exposure. You should speak with your doctor to find out if you should avoid both.

Did you know?
Many people think peanuts are nuts, but they’re actually legumes.

Cross-reactive foods are foods that you are more likely to be allergic to if you have a specific allergy. The major cross-reactive foods for people with cashew allergies are pistachios and pink peppercorns. It may be a good idea to avoid these foods if you have a cashew allergy. Talk to your doctor if you’d like more information about cross-reactive foods.

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Seek help

Seeking help

If you think you have a cashew allergy, talk to your doctor right away. They may refer you to an allergist who will evaluate your medical history, family history, and ask if you’ve had allergic reactions to other foods. They may also do allergy tests. Allergy tests may include:

You should also always carry an EpiPen with you. It’s a device you or someone with you can use to inject yourself with a measured dose of epinephrine. Epinephrine helps counteract anaphylaxis.

Food substitutes

Food substitutes

Seeds are a good substitute for cashews. Some seeds you may consider include:

  • sunflower
  • pumpkin
  • flax
  • hemp

You can also replace cashews in recipes with beans, such as chickpeas or soy beans. Pretzels are also a helpful substitution because of the similar texture and salty flavor of cashews. You can sprinkle them on salads, or mash them up and add them to ice cream for a sweet and salty flavor profile.

Food substitutes
  • seeds
  • crushed pretzels
  • dried beans
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Avoid

Foods and products to avoid

Sometimes cashews are added to pesto as a replacement for pine nuts. They are also found in pastries and other sweet items like cake, ice cream, and chocolates. Read food labels, even if you’ve eaten the food before. Food manufacturers may alter the ingredients or switch processing plants to one where contamination is possible.

Cashews are also popular in Asian cuisine. Thai, Indian, and Chinese foods often incorporate these nuts into entrees. If you’re at a restaurant or ordering takeout, tell your waiter that you have a nut allergy. If your allergy is severe enough, you may need to avoid these types of restaurants. Cross-contamination is possible because even if your dish doesn’t have cashews, cashew dust could make its way onto your plate.

Other products that may contain cashews include nut butters, nut oils, natural extracts, and some alcoholic drinks.  

Cashews and cashew byproducts are also found in inedible products, including makeup, shampoos, and lotions. Check cosmetic and toiletry labels for “Anacardium occidentale extract” and “Anacardium occidentale nut oil” on the label. That’s a sign that the product may contain cashew.

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Outlook

Outlook

People are becoming more aware of nut allergies, and food labeling has become a lot better at identifying products that may contain nuts. Look for products labeled “nut free,” and if you eat at a restaurant, let the wait staff know about your allergy. By avoiding cashews, you should be able to manage your allergy. 

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