Young woman experiencing common peanut allergy symptoms

Why are peanut allergies so common?

Written on November 23, 2022 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Table of contents


Peanut allergies are often associated with childhood, but adults can also develop peanut allergies. Peanut allergies affect approximately 4.6 million Americans, with over 800,000 becoming allergic as adults [1]. This article explains the basics of peanut allergies and the reasons why peanut allergies are so common.

What are peanut allergies?

Peanut allergies occur when your body mistakenly perceives the proteins in peanuts as a threat. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is the antibody responsible for activating allergic reactions [2]. During an invasion, your body produces more IgE to defend against the invader.

IgE signals inflammation-causing cells during an allergic reaction to assist with the invasion. These cells produce histamine, which causes the signs and symptoms you see during an allergic reaction.

Although most commonly considered a nut, a peanut is a bean in disguise. As a result, if you are allergic to peanuts, you are not always allergic to nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, etc., referred to as tree nuts. However, the symptoms of peanut and tree nut allergies are often similar.

What are the symptoms of peanut allergies?

Symptoms and signs of peanut allergies vary from person to person, as do their severity and location. Some people develop allergic reactions from skin contact and ingestion. Peanuts can trigger allergic reactions even in trace amounts [2].

The most severe form of an allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition characterized by swelling of the throat and breathing difficulties. If these symptoms occur, contact 911 immediately. Peanut allergy symptoms typically occur within the first hour but can occur hours later [2].

The following are symptoms of peanut allergies [2].

For the mouth:

  • Swelling of lips
  • Swelling of tongue
  • Itchy feeling around the mouth

For the chest/lungs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Pain
  • Tightness

For the skin:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Redness

For the heart:

  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Weak pulse

For the stomach:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps

Other:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy/watery eyes

Why are peanut allergies common in children?

Over the past 20 years, food allergies have increased dramatically [3]. Although healthcare providers and scientists recognize the rise in food allergies, the cause is still unclear.

One possible explanation is improvement in hygiene [3]. This is sometimes referred to as the hygiene hypothesis. There is now a consensus among allergy experts that peanut allergies originate from skin contact [4,5,6]. Due to the increase in hygiene, babies may have weaker skin barriers, causing them to overreact to peanut protein [3].

The hygiene hypothesis originates from two concepts. First, children with eczema, a skin condition, have a higher chance of developing peanut allergies compared to children without eczema [2,3]. Additionally, developing countries with less access to hygiene have lower rates of food allergies [3].

Is there a cure for a peanut allergy?

Unfortunately, a cure for peanut allergies does not exist. However, about 20% of children will outgrow their peanut allergy [2]. Rather than a cure, researchers have determined methods to decrease the likelihood of a baby developing a peanut allergy and a medication to decrease the severity of a reaction if one does occur.

The LEAP study

The Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study was a clinical trial designed to establish safe methods for introducing peanuts to infants [4]. The LEAP study evolved from another study of Jewish children living in the United Kingdom (UK) and in Israel.

While Jewish children in Israel are exposed to peanuts early, Jewish children in the UK are often introduced to peanuts later in life. The study found that Jewish children in the UK are significantly more likely to develop a peanut allergy, which indicated early exposure to peanuts might protect against peanut allergies [4].

During the LEAP study, the researchers gave 6 grams of peanuts to 542 infants weekly using Bamba snacks [4]. After 60 months, infants who were introduced to peanuts before 11 months had a 70% to 86% reduction in the likelihood of developing a peanut allergy [4].

Based on the LEAP study, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommends introducing infants with eczema or an egg allergy to peanuts between 4 to 6 months of age [6]. However, always consult your healthcare provider about introducing peanuts to your baby.

Palforzia

Despite the lack of a cure for peanut allergies, a new medication can help those who have them experience less severe allergic reactions. An oral medication called Palforzia helps a child's immune system fight an allergic reaction if they are accidentally exposed to peanuts [7]. Nevertheless, even if a child is taking Palforzia, they must follow a peanut-free diet and carry medication in case of an acute reaction [7].

What are the best ways To manage peanut allergies?

Since a cure does not exist for peanut allergies, the best way to manage a peanut allergy is to avoid peanut-containing foods. However, trace amounts of peanuts can exist in unexpected products and places. As a result, people with peanut allergies must always be prepared for an attack and manage peanut allergies accordingly.

Medication

For people with peanut allergies, a prescription for self-injectable epinephrine is necessary and must be accessible at all times [2]. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, and a bronchodilator are often used along with epinephrine [2].

Awareness

The primary way to manage a peanut allergy is awareness [2]. Especially at work or school, it is essential to inform everyone of your peanut allergy. When buying packaged food products, it is crucial to read the labels.

Testing

Testing is crucial to determine whether you have a peanut allergy. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) using self-reported data determined more adults think they have a food allergy than actually do [8]. It is essential to note food allergies and food sensitivities are different conditions. While food allergies are life-threatening, food sensitivities can cause inconvenient physical symptoms such as stomach cramping.

Although a healthcare provider must diagnose you, food testing can provide insights into how your body reacts to certain foods. Using the Everlywell food allergy test can help you. Visit the Everlywell products page to learn more about our at-home lab tests.

Peanut allergy symptoms explained

How to test for peanut allergy at home: a quick guide

How long does a peanut allergy reaction last?

Sudden egg allergy in adults: causes and more


References

  1. Warren C, Lei D, Sicherer S, Schleimer R, Gupta R. Prevalence and characteristics of peanut allergy in US adults. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021;147(6):2263-2270.e5. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2020.11.046. URL
  2. Patel R, Koterba AP. Peanut allergy. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed November 18, 2022. URL
  3. Platts-Mills TA. The allergy epidemics: 1870-2010. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015;136(1):3-13. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2015.03.048. URL
  4. Du Toit G, Roberts G, Sayre PH, et al. Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy [published correction appears in N Engl J Med. 2016;375(4):398]. N Engl J Med. 2015;372(9):803-813. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1414850. URL
  5. Maleki, S.J., Teuber, S.S., Mustafa, S.S., 2021. Adult peanut allergy: What we know and what we need to learn. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 147, 2069–2072.. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2021.03.031. URL
  6. Togias A, Cooper SF, Acebal ML, et al. Addendum guidelines for preventing peanut allergy in the United States: Report of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017;139(1):29-44. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2016.10.010. URL
  7. PALFORZIA [Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) Allergen Powder-dnfp]. Aimmune Therapeutics. Accessed November 18, 2022. URL
  8. Gupta RS, Warren CM, Smith BM, et al. Prevalence and severity of food allergies among US adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(1):e185630. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5630. URL
Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More