Peanut allergies are SO common – You probably know someone with a peanut allergy, too. Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies, with approximately one percent of the American population having this allergy. Peanut allergies can be severe and can manifest early in life, so it is important to have this allergy diagnosed as early as possible. So, how does an allergy doctor diagnose a peanut allergy? Here are the details.
What are the symptoms of a peanut allergy?
An allergy attack happens when the body overreacts to a trigger that is normally not harmful to the body. In the case of a peanut allergy, the immune system reacts to the presence of peanuts even though peanuts are not dangerous. The white blood cells generate antibodies, which trigger histamine and chemical release in the blood. This causes the allergic response.
In general, allergic responses can be mild or severe, and this is true for peanut allergies. Symptoms usually arise just a few minutes after being exposed to peanuts. Common symptoms of a peanut allergy include:
- Throat tightening
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Runny nose
- Skin reactions like hives, swelling, or redness
- Itching in or around the mouth and throat
- Digestive problems like diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach cramps
Peanuts are the leading cause of food-induced anaphylactic shock, which is a life-threatening condition. This can happen if the peanut allergy is severe. Anaphylaxis requires an epinephrine shot and a visit to the emergency room. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Airway constriction
- Rapid pulse rate
- Throat swelling and difficulty breathing
- A drastic drop in blood pressure
- Lightheadedness, nausea, dizziness, or loss of consciousness
Individuals who are experiencing anaphylactic shock require medical attention immediately. If the condition is not treated fast enough, it may result in an extreme airway constriction that can cause breathing or the heart to stop. In these cases, CPR is necessary.
How does a doctor diagnose a peanut allergy?
While many people’s peanut allergies are diagnosed during childhood, both children and adults are at risk of a peanut allergy. An allergist can diagnose a peanut allergy. Diagnosis begins with a discussion of your symptoms and general health. Risk factors for a peanut allergy include age, family history, and other allergies. Your allergy doctor may ask questions like these to assist in diagnosis:
- When did you notice the symptoms?
- How severe are the symptoms you experienced?
- After you ate peanuts, how long did it take for the symptoms to appear?
- How much did you eat?
- Did you take any allergy medications like antihistamines to manage the symptoms? If so, did the medication help?
- Is the reaction only triggered when eating peanuts, or do other foods cause a reaction as well?
- What seems to improve or worsen your reaction?
Your allergist will also conduct a physical examination. Following this assessment, your doctor may ask you to do the following:
- Keep a food journal. This is where you will record your daily meals, symptoms, and medications. A food journal can help your allergist diagnose an allergy by tracking what you ate and when symptoms occurred.
- Try an elimination diet. This requires you to cut out foods with suspected allergies (like peanuts) for one week. Then, you will add these foods back in one at a time. This can help your doctor determine which foods cause reactions.
- Undergo a skin test. In a skin test, a small number of peanuts are placed on the skin. If an allergic reaction (like swelling) occurs when a needle pricks the target area, it may indicate an allergy.
- Have your blood tested. In a blood test, your doctor measures the number of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in your blood. This quantifies your body’s immune reaction to peanuts. A high IgE number can indicate an allergy.
After following one or more of these steps, your doctor will be able to determine whether you have a peanut allergy. If you are diagnosed with a peanut allergy, your allergist will help you create an allergy management plan.
To learn more about how peanut allergies are diagnosed, or to schedule an appointment with our allergist, we invite you to contact us today at West River ENT & Allergy.