Nut allergy symptoms can range from minor to mild to severe and life-threatening. An allergic reaction can vary each time someone is exposed to the allergen, so even minor reactions need attention. The next time – the reaction could be much worse.
The amount of nut needed to create a reaction and thus allergy symptoms can vary significantly. Some people find that they cannot even tolerate foods that are produced in a factory that works with the nuts they are allergic to, even though the actual food they are interested in does not contain any nuts. The ‘dust’ or residue from the nuts is enough to set off their nut allergy symptoms. Luckily, food manufacturers are realizing this and starting to label their foods with a warning when they are produced in factories that handle peanuts and tree nuts. In the United States and the EU this has become a requirement.
If near cooking, inhalation of dust or aerosols containing nuts can occur. Flours or oil cooking sprays can be inhaled unexpectedly. The scent of food cannot cause a reaction because the scent does not carry the nut proteins.
People can experience cross-reactivity. An example would be where they find that they didn’t believe they had an allergy to pistachios, even though they had a known cashew allergy. People with a walnut allergy are more likely to react to pecan as well. Nuts can contain proteins that are very similar, which then create this cross-reactivity when the person is exposed to the second nut. Pecans and walnuts are thus an example of a pair that a person could easily exhibit cross-reactivity to.
Be vigilant with a baby or toddler, as they are most at risk of unknown allergic reactions to food. Consider allergies if they have any strange reactions to new foods, especially if they have any history.
What does the allergic reaction look like?
Most reactions to, and thus symptoms of, nut allergies will happen quickly, within a few minutes of exposure.
- Skin symptoms are common. The person could develop hives or a more general skin rash or redness and swelling along with itchiness. They might notice the symptoms mostly around their lips, in their mouth, and down their throat. Don’t hesitate to call for medical assistance if you see this happening. The tree nut/ peanut allergy symptoms may not progress any further but if it does the person will need more help than you can give.
- Respiratory symptoms such as wheezing and a runny nose could appear.
- Finally, digestive problems may emerge. Stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting could happen quickly once the nut is swallowed. Diarrhea could require more time and certainly can occur along with the other digestive problems.
The allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can occur and is very serious. A noticeable swelling of the lips, mouth, and throat accompanied by a feeling of tightening of the throat or shortness of breath needs immediate medical attention. If the person is noticing dizziness or lightheadedness their blood pressure could have dropped significantly or their heart could be beating so fast that blood flow is no longer good. Any loss of consciousness requires immediate attention and medical support. Call for help immediately or proceed to an emergency room as quickly as possible. There is no time to waste until the person is in medical care.
Because most foods will need to pass through the whole gastrointestinal tract from stomach to elimination food allergies tend to last for a period of time. Our bodies also require time to heal the reaction. Especially noticeable would be skin reactions that could take a few weeks to heal.
Talk with your health care provider and be ready. Quick use of an Epi-Pen then continued use of an oral antihistamine may help. Vomiting the food may help, but this needs to be done quickly after realizing you have eaten something you are allergic to and is not a very pleasant experience. Food doesn’t tend to stay in your stomach for more than 20 minutes, at most.