Nut Allergy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments


It is not unusual to find people with various food allergies, some being more common than others. While there are various types of food reactions, nut allergy is more well-known as it affects both children and adults worldwide. While for some the symptoms are mild, for others, even a small amount can be life-threatening. So, how does one find out if they are allergic to nuts?

First, you need to understand the categories of nuts and what they do to the body if you're allergic. We've also listed down some common symptoms people may experience when it comes to nut allergies and treatment for the same. If you suffer from any of the following symptoms it is best to contact your health care provider ASAP. f

Types of nuts

Even though many people suffer from this allergen, contrary to popular belief, peanuts are not actual nuts. Although they have the word nut in it, peanuts are actually from the legume family. This is 'coz nuts are classified as tree nuts. They grow above ground while peanuts grow underground. However, peanuts still have the same symptoms and allergic reactions as compared to those with a tree nut allergy. 

Meanwhile, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, and almonds, are all classified as tree nuts.

Symptoms of nut allergy 

According to research, class 1 and class 2 sensitization is associated with different clinical symptoms. Class 2 nut allergens occur by respiratory sensitization to cross-reactive respiratory allergens like pollen. This results in mild symptoms such as oral allergy syndrome, reactions in the throat, esophagus and may even trigger atopic dermatitis. 

Sensitization to class I allergens results in digestion-related issues which happen via the gastrointestinal tract. It can manifest into severe issues, including anaphylaxis.

  • - Skin reaction 

Skin reaction is one of the milder symptoms of nut allergy. This can include rashes, swelling, redness and tenderness, and hives. Most of which can be treated with OTC medications.

  • - Upper Respiratory Tract 

These symptoms usually affect the nose, throat, and eyes. They include stuffy or runny nose, continuous sneezing, sore throat, itching or watery eyes.

  • - Digestive problems

Just like other food allergies, one of the symptoms of nut allergies can include digestive issues. When the allergenic proteins make their way to the stomach and intestine, it leads to problems like nausea, stomach cramps or vomiting and diarrhoea. Unlike the previous symptoms, digestive distress may occur a couple of hours after eating nuts. 

  • - Difficulty breathing

This is a more dangerous symptom. The allergic reaction tightens the airway and can even lead to complete closure. This can turn into allergic asthma which is shortness of breath or anaphylaxis. The latter is much more dangerous as the throat and airways swell and become blocked. Anaphylaxis occurs as a result of the activation of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in the body. It causes facial swelling, low blood pressure, changes in heart rate and confusion. People who suffer from anaphylaxis need to always carry an EpiPen as it helps reopen the airway immediately, allowing you to breathe again.

Why do nut allergies happen?

Just like any food allergy, the immune system of someone allergic to nuts mistakenly identifies the nuts as a harmful foreign substance. This immediately sends the body into defence mode. For most people, there aren't any symptoms the first time they consume it but later on, the body identifies the allergen and gets ready to fight it.

Unfortunately, more research is needed on the topic as scientists still haven’t figured out why some people’s bodies react to nut proteins in this way. But like any food allergies, genetics seem to be the most common factor.

How to know if you have nut allergies?

If you suspect you or anyone you know has a nut allergy, you can do an allergy test which is conducted by an allergist. 

Treatment For Nut Allergies

Unlike some food allergies, tree nut allergy unfortunately cannot be cured. The best solution is to avoid them altogether. A basic treatment plan includes: 

  • 1. Avoiding foods and products that contain tree nuts or its by-products.

  • 2. Take antihistamines to address mild symptoms

  • 3. If you are severely allergic make sure to carry an epipen wherever you go. 

  • 4. If your child has a nut allergy, ensure that their caregivers, teachers etc know about it.

What should you avoid?

1. Products with nuts

Unfortunately there are many food products in the market that contain nuts or peanuts. Nut butters, nut pastes, nut flowers and oils are things you need to stay away from if you have a nut allergy. 

Aside from foods, even certain products like shampoos, creams etc contain nut extracts. This is why it is vital to always read the ingredient list on the packaging. 

2. Ask your server

Sometimes a particular dish may not have nuts but it is made in an environment that may contaminate the food. While eating out, inform your server and ensure that utensils are thoroughly sterilised.

Now that you are aware of the symptoms of nut allergies, it's important to contact your doctor if you face any of these symptoms after consuming nuts. 

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