This article is the first in a multi-part series on the most common food allergies. We begin by discussing the top three offenders (peanuts, tree nuts and dairy/milk). It is our hope that this series will help prepare you to better manage these food allergies. Similarly, we hope this series will help you avoid these allergens if you are allergic or think you might be allergic. In future installments, we will discuss the other leading food allergens in detail. And in between, anything is possible. Lots of thought-provoking info and insights coming your way, we’ll leave it at that.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common and perhaps the best-known food allergy. Unfortunately, it is also one of the deadliest. Worse still, the incidence of peanut allergy in children appears to be rapidly increasing. A study done in 2008 involving 5,300 households found a 1.4% incidence, a rate more than triple the 0.4% incidence found in a similar study conducted only 11 years earlier.[i]
Amongst children, peanut allergy is very prevalent. And only 20% of those diagnosed with a peanut allergy have been found to outgrow it later in life.[ii] In fact, a majority of schools have outright banned products that contain peanuts as an ingredient. This is due primarily to the fact that the most serious potential reaction to peanuts, anaphylaxis, can cause life-threatening symptoms in the body which require immediate treatment and attention.
Peanuts are distinguishable from tree nuts (discussed in the next section) in that they are grown in the ground and are a member of the legume family. Other members of the legume family include soybeans, lentils, and peas. While there are many obvious foods to avoid for people with a peanut allergy, there are also many subtle ones that can be just as deadly: chocolates, ice creams, lupin, mixed nuts, and anything cooked in peanut oil (also known as “arachis” oil). It is also worth noting that even if a food does not actually contain peanuts as an ingredient, it is entirely possible that the food was processed on machinery that also processes peanuts. Read labels carefully and call the manufacturer if you have any doubt whatsoever about what is in a product or how it is manufactured.
Symptoms indicating a potential allergic reaction to peanuts include: (1) nausea, (2) a runny or congested nose, (3) itchy skin and/or small spots/hives, (4) itching in and around the mouth or throat, difficulty breathing, and (5) anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition that impairs breathing and can send the body into shock. If you or someone you know appears to be experiencing anaphylaxis, seek medical attention immediately!
Tree nut allergy
Tree nut allergy is arguably the second or third most common food allergy for children, affecting somewhere between 0.4% and 0.5% of children and infants. Less than 10% of children with a tree nut allergy ever “outgrow” it later in life.[iii]
As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.” And according to a study conducted in 1999, people afflicted with a peanut allergy are as much as 25-40% more likely to be allergic to tree nuts than the average person.[iv] Similarly, if you’re allergic to one type of tree nut, you are much more likely to be allergic to other types of tree nuts.
Tree nut allergy is very similar to peanut allergy, except that it is caused by a different type of nut. As the name suggests, the allergy is caused by nuts that grow on trees, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts. For a comprehensive list of tree nuts and tree nut derivatives, see the Tree Nut Allergy page at www.kidswithfoodallergies.com.[v] However, it is also worth noting that “tree nut proteins can be found in some surprising places, such as cereals, crackers, cookies, candy, chocolates, energy bars, flavored coffee, frozen desserts, marinades, barbeque sauces and some cold cuts, such as mortadella.”[vi] Simply put, you can’t be too careful.
The following symptoms indicate a potential allergic reaction to tree nuts: (1) diarrhea, (2) difficulty swallowing, (3) abdominal pain, (4) cramps and muscle pain, (5) itching of eyes, mouth and/or throat, (6) shortness of breath, and (7) vomiting.[vii] If you experience one or more of these symptoms and think you may have come into contact with tree nuts, seek medical attention immediately!
Dairy (or milk) allergy is arguably the most common food allergy in children, affecting upwards of 2-3% of children from 0-3 years of age. Unlike nut allergies, however, an allergy to dairy is very likely to be outgrown by the age of 16.[viii]
Dairy allergy is caused by any product containing or derived from cow’s milk. However, if you are allergic to cow’s milk, it is entirely possible that you are also allergic to milk produced from other domestic animals, such as goats.[ix] Products to watch out for include but are by no means limited to:
- Whey protein
- Sour cream
- Cottage cheese
If you have a dairy allergy and have knowingly or unknowingly ingested a dairy product, there are some symptoms to look out for within minutes to an hour of ingesting the food: (1) itching, tingling or swelling of the lips, mouth or throat, (2) breaking out in hives, (3) wheezing, (4) vomiting, and (5) anaphylaxis. As with the nut allergies discussed above, if you think you may be experiencing an allergic reaction, seek medical attention immediately![x]
This concludes Part One of our series on Common Food Allergies. But keep an eye out for Part Two! And if you haven’t had a chance to read our previous article, you can do so here: Food Allergies in a ‘Nut Shell’
About the author
Safe Sweets is a US based company that offers allergy free and allergen friendly chocolates. Many of the products offered by Safe Sweets have zero allergic ingredients, which means that customers with a history of food allergy can buy its products without hesitation. And because their facility is 100% nut free and dairy free, there is no chance of cross-contamination from shared equipment, utensils, or the like. If you are looking for an allergy free or allergen friendly chocolate option for you or your children, visit www.safesweets.com today for an amazing line of delicious, allergy safe products.