Trick or Treat: Peanut Allergies

Halloween is such a fun time. Costumes, pumpkin carving, cooler temperatures, and sugar highs for days on end. While it is a time of celebration for most, for some parents, it is a time of significant anxiety. The incidence of food allergies has increased in recent decades, and the parents of kids who have food allergies live in fear of their kid accidentally getting some piece of candy that unknown to them, may have an allergen in it with devastating consequences. While there are many allergies, peanut allergies are the ones I am focusing on today.

I have a guest blogger today, Dr. Lindsay McMullan, who is an allergist at the Asthma and Allergy Clinic of Hattiesburg. She is a board certified allergist and immunologist and she is also board certified in internal medicine. She did her residency and fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She is married and has 3 beautiful children.

What is the teal pumpkin project?

The Teal Pumpkin Project raises awareness for food allergy and encourages non-food treats for Halloween marked by a teal colored pumpkin in front of the venue where treats are being distributed. Participants can mark their location on the project map and also visit the site for treat ideas.

The point is to help ease the stress and increase the fun of Halloween for food allergy families. One of their biggest resources: FARE  (Food Allergy Resource & Education), has instituted the Teal Pumpkin Project. Resources are available for a variety of Halloween celebrations. What a great way to show support for friends and family with food allergies!

To learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project visit: https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project

What happens to a kid when they eat peanuts and have a peanut allergy?

Peanut allergy can cause symptoms such as hives or whelps, swelling including: lips, tongue, and throat, asthma attacks, and stomach symptoms. They can also be so severe that they threaten someone’s life. We call severe reactions anaphylaxis.

How can you be sure that candy or foods do not have peanuts in it?

Peanuts are required to be listed as a possible allergen on the ingredient label if the food contains peanuts.  We talk to our allergy patients about reading every label.  If foods are not labeled, you can ask the person who prepared the food if it contains peanuts or has been contaminated by peanuts (such as cooked on the same surface).

Why are food allergies becoming more common?

There is not one answer to this question. It involves many factors. Some problems with food are different from an actual allergy but can still make you feel bad. So it is important to be sure your diagnosis is correct because instructions and risks can be different.  A test by itself does not diagnose a food allergy.  There are also tests available that are advertised as allergy tests but do not actually check for any allergy.  Your primary care physician can refer you to a board certified allergy specialist if a food allergy is suspected.

When is the appropriate age to introduce peanuts? Also milk, eggs, etc?

Food introduction should not be delayed out of concern for allergy. In fact, earlier introduction for peanuts helps to decrease the likelihood of allergy in many patients. (link to information about this).  During infancy, when other foods are introduced, is ok to introduce peanuts and eggs. Milk is not introduced until after the age of 1 due to other concerns, though milk containing products such as cheese may be introduced before then.  Some children such as those with severe eczema or a known egg allergy may need additional caution before introducing peanuts. Board certified pediatricians and family medicine physicians can help parents navigate food introduction for infants and also help refer to board certified allergists when assistance is needed.

Is peanut allergy the same as tree nut allergy?

No. Peanuts are actually legumes and grow in the ground.  Many peanut allergic people are not allergic to tree nuts, just as many tree nut allergic people can eat peanuts. There are people who are allergic to both. An allergist can help a person figure out if they are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, or both.

How can I be more considerate of those with food allergies?

This is a GREAT question.  At Halloween, offering non-food treats such as stickers or other items is helpful. You can use a Teal Pumpkin (link that was in first paragraph for the project) to notify trick-or-treaters that you have non-food treats.  Educating your children, grandchildren, and friends to be kind and not bully those with food allergies is also important. Finally, if you are hosting an event, or preparing food for an event, checking for possible food allergies is great. If this is not possible, labeling your food with ingredients goes a LONG way towards helping those with food allergies know what is safe.

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