Peanut Allergy...The Shocking Facts

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of deaths from food allergy.

Allergy to peanuts affects 1.3% of the general population. Peanut allergy affects 7 percent of brothers and sisters of persons with the allergy. (British Medical Journal 1996;313:518-521.)

Facts About Peanut Allergy

Peanut Allergy Prevalence

  • Peanut and tree nut (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.) allergy can be a serious condition that affects approximately three million Americans, or 1.1 percent of the population.
  • Peanuts are the leading cause of severe food allergic reactions, followed by shellfish, fish, tree nuts and eggs. (Food Allergy Network)

Peanut Allergy Characteristics

  • Peanut allergy can be characterized by more severe symptoms, such as gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory symptoms, than other food allergies and by a high rate of symptoms on minimal contact. ("Clinical characteristics of peanut allergy," Clin. Exp. Allergy, 1997; "An evaluation of the sensitivity of subjects with peanut allergy to very low doses of peanut protein," J. Allergy Clin. Immunol., 1997)

  • Severe sufferers also may experience potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock in response to ingestion of peanuts. Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction in which the release of histamine causes swelling, difficulty in breathing, heart failure, circulatory collapse, and sometimes death.
  • As many as one-third of peanut-sensitive patients have severe reactions, such as fatal and near-fatal anaphylaxis. ("Anaphylactic deaths in asthmatic patients," Allergy Proc., 1989)

  • Avoidance of peanuts is very difficult because peanuts are commonly used as an adulterant in the preparation of foods. (Allergic reaction to inadvertent peanut contact in a child," Allergy Asthma Proc., 1997)

Peanut Allergy Therapies

  • There is no cure for peanut allergy and no therapies that eliminate or reduce the severity of peanut allergy. Current treatments only address the symptoms of an allergic reaction once it has taken place. (The American Peanut Council)

  • Strict avoidance of peanut and peanut-ingredient is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The American Peanut Council)

  • Reactions can begin and proceed rapidly, in extreme cases proving fatal within minutes. Severe sufferers must use epinephrine (i.e., adrenaline) to help prevent anaphylactic shock. If administered in time, an injection of epinephrine may reverse the anaphylactic condition by quickly constricting blood vessels, increasing the heart rate, stopping swelling around the face and throat, and relaxing muscles in the lungs. Once administered, immediate hospital follow-up is required. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology)

Flying With a Peanut Allergy

One of the most common staples of air travel is the little bag of peanuts. If you have a peanut allergy, this is a dangerous perk. Below is some great information and some helpful tips for travelers on how make it a positive situation.


Throughout the year, FAN receives many calls from members who are seeking guidance for requesting a peanut-free flight. Below is a set of suggested guidelines for peanut-allergic passengers flying on U.S. carriers. However, each person must create a plan based on his or her particular case.

As of August 2000, the only major U.S. airline that does not serve peanut snacks is United, but you should confirm this with them because airlines have been known to change their policy. This does not mean they are peanut-free, because they may have peanut ingredients in their meals or other passengers may carry peanuts on the plane with them. No airline can guarantee a peanut-free flight. However, some airlines are willing to serve non-peanut snacks upon request; others will make no accommodations.

No matter which airline you choose, let them know up front that you are requesting they serve a non-peanut snack to everyone on your flight. If the reservation agent doesn't seem to understand what you are requesting, ask to speak to a supervisor or special service coordinator (titles vary by airline).

Ask for a written confirmation of your request and the airline's response. Some will provide it, others will not; but it may help if you have to reschedule your flights en route. At the very least, get the name and telephone number of the supervisor or special service coordinator in case you have a problem en route. Some will ask for documentation of food allergy from your physician at the last minute. This can usually be handled via fax. There are a number of important things to do before, during, and after your flight.


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