Peanuts are a common cause of serious allergic reactions. If you’re allergic to them, a tiny amount can trigger a major reaction. Even just touching peanuts can bring on a reaction for some people.
Children are more likely than adults to have peanut allergies. While some grow out of it, others need to avoid peanuts for life.
You have a higher risk of developing food allergies, including to peanuts, if you’ve been diagnosed with another allergic condition. Family history of allergies also raises your risk for developing a peanut allergy.
Read on to learn what the signs and symptoms of a peanut allergy look like. Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect that you might be allergic to peanuts. They can refer you to an allergist for testing.
In most cases, an allergic reaction will become obvious within minutes of contact with peanuts. Some signs and symptoms can be subtle. For example, you might develop one or more of the following:
- itchy skin
- hives, which can appear as small spots or large welts on your skin
- itching or tingling sensations in or around your mouth or throat
- runny or congested nose
In some cases, these mild symptoms are just the beginning of a reaction. It can become more serious, especially if you don’t take steps to treat it early.
More noticeable signs and symptoms
Some symptoms of an allergic reaction are more noticeable and unpleasant. For example, you might develop:
- swollen lips or tongue
- swollen face or limbs
- stomach cramps
Some allergic reactions are severe and life-threatening. This type of allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis. You may have any of the symptoms described above, as well as:
- swollen throat
- trouble breathing
- drop in blood pressure
- racing pulse
- loss of consciousness
How to treat a severe reaction
If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction in two or more body systems (such as both the respiratory and digestive systems), or any severe symptoms, it’s a medical emergency. The reaction could be life-threatening.
To treat a severe allergic reaction, you need an injection of epinephrine. If you’re diagnosed with a peanut allergy, your doctor will instruct you to carry epinephrine auto-injectors. Each device includes an easy-to-use preloaded dose of epinephrine that you can give to yourself (via injection).
After the epinephrine, you still need emergency medical help. If you don’t have an epinephrine auto-injector, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately to get help.
If you develop a mild allergic reaction that only affects one body system (such as your skin or gastrointestinal system), over-the-counter antihistamines might be enough for treatment.
These drugs can help relieve mild symptoms, such as itchiness and hives. But they can’t stop a severe allergic reaction. In some cases, mild symptoms occur before you develop severe symptoms. Pay close attention to your body and be prepared to use your epinephrine auto-injector and get medical help if your reaction becomes severe.
If you have never been diagnosed with an allergy and suspect that you’ve had an allergic reaction, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help determine what caused your symptoms. You can then learn how to avoid and treat allergic reactions in the future.
When you have a peanut allergy, the only way to avoid an allergic reaction is to stay away from all foods with peanuts. Reading ingredient lists and asking questions about food is a necessary part of avoiding peanuts and an allergic reaction.
In addition to peanut butter, peanuts are often found in:
- Chinese, Thai, and Mexican foods
- chocolate bars and other candies
- cakes, pastries, and cookies
- ice cream and frozen yogurt
- granola bars and trail mixes
Ask restaurants, bakeries, and other food providers about peanuts that may be in the food. Also, ask about food that may be prepared near peanuts. Don’t forget to ask family and friends the same thing when they prepare food. And don’t share food, drinks, or eating utensils in case they touched peanuts. Don’t take a chance if you’re unsure.
If you have a peanut allergy, always have epinephrine auto-injectors with you. Consider wearing a medical alert bracelet with your allergy information. It can be very helpful in case you have a serious reaction and aren’t able to tell others about your allergy.