Living with a Tree Nut Allergy
When it comes to food allergies, allergic reactions to tree nuts are among the most commonly occurring. A tree nut allergy affects both children and adults and causes symptoms varying from mild to life-threatening. Mild symptoms may include watery eyes, a scratchy throat and minor itchiness, while more severe reaction can lead to anaphylaxis.
Tree nuts include walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, pine nuts and lychee nuts. You may develop an allergy to only one type of tree nut, or you may react to various nuts. However, if you are allergic to one type, you are at risk of reacting to others, as well. Therefore, your allergist may suggest that you avoid all kinds of tree nuts until you get an allergy testing.
What Symptoms Does a Tree Nut Allergy Cause?
In people tree nut allergies, exposure to them triggers a reaction that leads to allergic symptoms. Sometimes, it takes up to several hours before the symptoms appear. Severe symptoms, however, tend to occur within a few minutes to half an hour.
Thus, an allergic reaction to a tree nut may lead to nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain (such as upset stomach and cramping), itching of the eyes, mouth, throat, hands and other parts of the body, runny or stuffy nose, difficulty breathing or swallowing, wheezing, and even anaphylaxis.
Anaphylactic reactions are rare, but the most of them are caused by peanut, shellfish and tree nut allergies. The symptoms of anaphylaxis usually include swollen throat, difficulty swallowing, wheezing, a red skin rash with hives, vomiting and fainting. These symptoms can be life-threatening; therefore, people with severe tree nut allergies are recommended to wear a special allergy ID bracelet and carry an epinephrine auto-injector (like EpiPen, Auvi-Q or Adrenaclick), in case of an emergency.
Who Is at Risk of Develop a Tree Nut Allergy?
Knowing the risk factors related to a tree nut allergy may help you prevent the allergic reaction.
Thus, if you are allergic to peanuts, you may also be sensitive to tree nuts. Although they are legumes but not tree nuts, peanut allergy may increase the risk for a tree nut allergy. According to research, 25-40 percent of people with peanut allergy also develop the reaction to tree nuts.
In families where a parent or a child are allergic to a tree nut, other siblings are also in the risk group. In this case, specialists recommend conducting a test for allergies in families.
In addition, being allergic to one type of tree nuts increases the risk of reacting to others. It is possible to determine all your allergy triggers with a complete allergy screening test. If you are interested in this, your doctor will provide all the necessary information.
How to Diagnose a Tree Nut Allergy?
Since a tree nut allergy is sometimes a life-threatening condition, you need to make sure your diagnosis is correct. Allergies can be diagnosed based on the results of a skin test or a blood test. One of the most commonly used allergy skin tests is a skin prick test. This test involves exposing you to various allergens by injecting tiny amounts of an allergen into the surface of your skin. In case of an allergy, the affected part of your skin will turn red or swell. If skin tests are not suitable for you, because of your age or some health problem, you can do a blood test.
Sometimes, however, the tests may provide inconclusive results. In this case, your allergists can suggest performing a food challenge. The food challenge often takes several hours, during which you are given the food allergen in increasing doses. This examination should be monitored by your doctor, and the medications and other medical services should be at hand, in case of an emergency.
Can You Prevent a Tree Nut Allergy?
Just like many other types of allergy, an allergy to tree nuts is an incurable condition. Therefore, the best thing you can do to prevent an allergic reaction is to eliminate tree nuts completely from your diet. You will need to avoid not only nuts themselves, but also any products that may contain them. This also applies to people, especially children, who are diagnosed with an allergy to just one nut, as the risk of reacting to others is high.
The most popular tree nuts among consumers are cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and pine nuts. Nut-based food products may include nut oils, nut butters, and nut extracts.
In most countries, including the United States, food manufacturers are obliged to list all the ingredients contained in their products. If the food may contain allergens, such as tree nuts, or may come in contact with the allergens during the manufacturing process, this should also be stated on the food label. Make sure to always read the labels before buying a food product, as many food manufacturers can change their formulas from time to time, without any notice. Being careful with what you eat can really help to control severe food allergy symptoms.
Unfortunately, despite the FDA labeling requirements, tree nut proteins may sometimes be found in foods without being listed on the label. Such foods may often include dry goods (such as cookies, crackers, cereals, etc.), perishable goods (cheeses, marinades, condiments, etc.), beverages (flavored coffees, liqueurs, etc.), desserts (chocolates, ice creams, etc.), as well as some hygiene products (lotions, shampoos, etc.).
When eating out, you should inform your server about your allergy and ask them about the ingredients used to prepare your meal.
How to Live with Tree Nut Allergies?
Depending on your age and the severity of your allergy, your allergy to a tree nut can be lifelong or temporary. If you get a diagnosis already in your adult years, the allergy will likely be lifelong, whereas children can sometimes outgrow their food allergies. However, compared with allergies to other foods like milk or egg, the chances of outgrowing an allergy to tree nuts are significantly lower. And the more severe are the symptoms, the lower are the chances of outgrowing it. One study shows that tree nut allergies tend to go away with time in about 10 percent of cases.
The good news is that increasing awareness about food allergies has made the lives of allergic people easier and safer.