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
- Peanuts are the leading
cause of severe food allergic reactions, followed by shellfish, fish, tree nuts
and eggs. (Food Allergy Network)
- 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.
- 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
- 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
Flying With a Peanut Allergy
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
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.