Let’s look at this topic in terms of what lifestyle precautions need to be taken, and then a look at desensitization as a management technique.
Obviously, such nut allergies can cause anaphylaxis, and thus a serious risk to life. Anyone with a potential for such severe reactions should always carry an epi-pen (containing epinephrine/adrenaline). Consider wearing a warning bracelet, to help someone recognize that you may be having an allergic reaction. Prompt recognition of anaphylaxis and getting the appropriate emergency help mean the difference between life and death.
The first ‘treatment’ for nut allergies is to avoid contact with the offending ingredients (both in our diet and other sources). This is not as easy as it may sound, but people who get used to dealing with their allergies will know what to look for and what to avoid.
Always assume that a food may contain peanuts until you are sure it doesn’t. That very tasty barbeque sauce can include peanut butter! Always read labels, and re-read them intermittently to be sure the ingredients haven’t changed. Don’t hesitate to contact a manufacturer about a food. In the US the inclusion of nuts in a food or production in a facility that uses nuts is required to be listed on the label. When in a social situation or at a restaurant don’t hesitate to say ‘no thanks’ to a food if you are unsure of its contents. It is easier to explain to people how serious a food allergy reaction can be than to show them the reaction.
Oils and butters of nuts are commonly available. Someone who is allergic to the nut may, or may not, be allergic to the oil or butter. The allergy could change with time, or could be amount specific. A person may tolerate a little peanut butter once a week but not every day. Oils tend to have very little protein from the nut in them so they may be the least allergy-causing.
Remember to watch for nut oils, butters, and derivatives in personal care items such as skin and hair care products. One example is how sodium lauryl sulfate is made from coconut. You may want to carry a list of the botanical names of the more common nuts that can be made into butters that are used in creams and lotions. Eco-friendly cleaning products for house and laundry can also contain nut derived products but may not list them. So be cautious when they list ‘plant based’ ingredients. Call the company and find out what is really in the product before you buy.
If family members have allergies, children will be at higher risk of an allergy, including to food. Unexplained eczema may indicate a nut allergy. Consider exploring the idea with your doctor. Even if the person believes they have outgrown their nut allergy it could suddenly reappear.
Allergic reactions to peanuts can occur even if the amount of exposure is minimal. Experts believe this could be due to the human immune system being able to recognize the peanut allergen more readily than other allergens. This has led to many surprise reactions for peanut allergy sufferers. Desensitization may be a way to avoid this problem. While not a cure as such, it may not be able to allow a person to eat peanuts but it can stop a reaction to small amounts that the person may not realize are present.
Desensitization as a nut allergy “treatment” involves giving a person a small amount of the food repetitively at a time interval agreed upon with your health care provider. This cannot be done without appropriate supervision and planning. This is not a ‘home remedy’! The amount is slowly increased as long as the person is tolerating it.
Desensitization immunotherapy has been used for curing (or trying to cure) hay fever and other pollen allergies for quite some time but the use of it for food allergies has been minimal. A study in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that sublingual immunotherapy could be an option for peanut allergy sufferers who would like to avoid surprise reactions to small amounts (less than 100 mg) of peanut. It did not show that the person could necessarily return to eating peanuts regularly. The authors did feel that more research was needed and that long term therapy could work the best but would need to be studied.
Tree nut and peanut allergy treatment requires working with a physician, and many times an allergy specialist. They are your best resource.