Understanding a Nut Allergy

Whether your child has been diagnosed with a nut allergy or you’re just hoping to better understand one of the most common allergies among children, we are here to teach you some of the most relevant information. 

These details will help you watch for signs and symptoms and effectively administer treatment in the instance that a child with a nut allergy consumes nuts. 

It is important to note that a nut allergy can look different from one person to another, affecting both children and adults alike. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and may be caused by just one nut or various nuts.

What is a nut allergy?

In the simplest terms, a nut allergy is your body’s adverse reaction to the consumption of nuts. When eaten, your body’s immune system overreacts to the protein found in nuts causing you to experience a wide variety of symptoms. Some people are allergic to just one nut, while others are allergic to all nuts. An allergy to one increases your risk of being allergic to all.

Some of the most common nuts that cause allergies include:

  • Peanuts (part of the legume family)
  • Tree nuts including:
    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
    • Pecans
    • Pinenuts
    • Pistachios
    • Cashews
    • Hazelnuts

Nut allergy symptoms can range in severity.

Just over 1% or about 3 million Americans have a nut allergy. Although peanuts are part of the legume family and are not classified as a tree nut, they are the most common nut allergy. Additionally, peanut and tree nut allergies are listed as one of the top eight food allergens in the country, coming in just under dairy and eggs. If your child has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, they are up to 40% more likely to develop a tree nut allergy as well. A family history of nut allergy also increases your child’s risk of developing this allergy.

Understanding and recognizing the symptoms is vital to keeping your child or a loved one.

The most common nut allergy symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching of the mouth, throat, or skin
  • Trouble swallowing 
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose 
  • Skin rashes, redness, and tenderness 
  • Hives 

In severe but rare cases, anaphylaxis may occur.

This is the most extreme reaction to a nut allergy. During anaphylaxis, the throat and airways begin to swell and become blocked. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Itchiness of the skin
  • Facial swelling
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Fainting 

If any of these severe symptoms occur, call 9-1-1 right away. We recommend carrying an EpiPen, an intramuscular injection of epinephrine, at all times to use at the first signs of anaphylaxis. This medication provides a boost of adrenaline to your body, causing your airways to reopen, allowing you to breathe again quickly. 

Pay particular attention to foods and labeling. 

One of the most important ways to curb symptoms of a nut allergy is to avoid the nut altogether. Although it may seem as simple as not eating nuts, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Nuts can be found in various foods. 

Nuts are most commonly found in:

  • Nut butters and oils
  • Baked goods
  • Chocolates and candies
  • Salad dressings
  • Marinades and glazes
  • Cereals
  • Crackers 
  • Cookies
  • Energy bars
  • Flavored coffees 
  • Frozen desserts 

Always read labels to ensure no nuts or nut by-products are present.

If you suspect your child has a nut allergy, the best first step is to consult your child’s pediatrician, who will refer you to an allergy specialist for further evaluation and testing. Through a variety of testing, your allergist will confirm a final allergy diagnosis.