Nuts can be a tasty and healthy snack but for those who are allergic, they can cause quite a bit of trouble. Here are five things parents should know about nut allergies.

“Nuts are one of the most common allergy-causing foods, affecting over 20 million people in the U.S. and many studies show that these numbers are steadily increasing,” said Dr. Vivian Hernandez-Trujillo, Director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Miami Children’s Hospital. “While the exact cause of this type of allergy is still unknown, allergic reactions happen as a result of the immune system overreacting to proteins in this type of food, treating them as harmful invaders and fighting them with antibodies that release chemicals into the body.”

SYMPTOMS VARY WITH EACH CHILD

Allergic reactions to nuts are different in each individual and can even be different with each encounter to the allergen. “The release of antibodies in response to a nut allergy can affect a child in many different ways, from the gastrointestinal tract and skin to the lungs and cardiovascular system,” explained Dr. Hernandez-Trujillo. As a result, symptoms can range from hives and coughing to stomachache or vomiting.

NUT ALLERGIES CAN BE LIFE THREATENING

Allergies to nuts generally cause mild reactions in children, though in some cases the result can be a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, particularly in children with a severe allergy to peanuts. Anaphylaxis can cause symptoms such as trouble breathing, fainting and, if not treated, death.

AN ALLERGIST CAN BEST DIAGNOSE A NUT ALLERGY

If you suspect that your child may have a nut allergy, talk to your pediatrician. He or she can determine if your child could benefit from seeing an allergist.

An allergy specialist will likely ask you questions about your family history of allergy-related conditions, such as eczema or asthma, as well as what type of symptoms your child experiences when exposed to certain nuts. The allergist may also choose to order tests as a way to see how your child’s body reacts to an extremely small amount of the nut that may cause an allergic reaction.

“It’s important to remember that if your child has a nut allergy, even exposure to a small amount of a potential allergen could lead to anaphylaxis and you should never try exposure to nuts at home,” noted Dr. Hernandez-Trujillo.

PREVENTION IS KEY

If your child is diagnosed with a nut allergy, make sure to investigate items that may contain nuts, including certain cookies, candy, ice cream and sauces, before keeping them in your home. Talk to family members, friends, and your child’s teachers and coaches so that everyone can practice caution with certain foods around your child. Inform servers at restaurants so that they can exercise precautions and keep your child’s food away from dishes that may contain nuts.

“When your child has a nut allergy, the most important thing to remember is to have an emergency plan,” said Dr. Hernandez-Trujillo. “Keeping an epinephrine autoinjector available at all times can help ease symptoms of severe allergic reactions. You should also designate someone to administer the shot in your absence. The autoinjector should be available wherever the child is.”

For more information, visit www.mch.com.

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