Walnuts, cashews, and almonds – these are the most consumed tree nuts in the country, and for many people, they trigger mild to severe allergic reactions. Macadamias, hazelnuts, chestnuts, brazil nuts, and pecans are other examples of tree nuts.
Peanuts, which are also a common cause of allergies, are not tree nuts, but legumes. Both tree nuts and legumes like peanuts can trigger a severe anaphylactic reaction, which causes a drop in blood pressure levels and a narrowing of the airways, which can turn fatal very quickly. A person with a peanut allergy is more likely to also be allergic to tree nuts – and vice versa.
Since tree nuts are among the allergens that can cause an anaphylactic reaction, seeing a doctor as soon as possible is highly recommended if you or your child has experienced allergy symptoms when exposed in the past.
What Happens During an Allergic Reaction to Tree Nuts?
Allergies to tree nuts can vary from person to person. During an allergic reaction, the body reacts to the proteins in tree nuts, thinking it’s a foreign invader. The body launches an immunological response that is out of the ordinary for what was consumed. Even trace amounts of tree nuts (usually found in oils, nut butters, sauces, and dips) can cause an allergic reaction. Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty swallowing
- Throat tightness
- Abdominal cramps or pain
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Mouth and throat swelling
Most people don’t grow out of tree nut allergies. Since tree nuts can cause an anaphylactic reaction, patients are instructed to limit exposure by reading food labels and asking about ingredients before consuming new foods and drinks. They are also taught how to administer epinephrine, which they will need the moment they start experiencing swelling of the mouth and difficulty breathing after being exposed to an allergen.
How Epinephrine Works
Epinephrine is usually delivered through an auto-injector. Epinephrine reverses anaphylaxis by binding to receptors of the lungs and causing the muscles around the airways to relax. Epinephrine can also prevent the release of more histamines, stopping the progression of the reaction.
Living With Tree Nut Allergies
Part of managing tree nut allergies is to educate patients on the preponderance of tree nuts in prepared and packaged foods. If a food or drink contains the tree nut you are allergic to, don’t consume it. A food item may not have tree nuts in it but may have been processed in a facility that also processes foods that contain tree nuts. This too can cause an allergic reaction, because trace particles of the tree nuts may be in the food. Allergists teach patients to read and understand food labels and other ways to avoid exposure.
Since patients can be exposed to tree nuts by accident, treatments for tree nut allergies are also used, such as epinephrine. Oral immunotherapy is a type of treatment where the patient is frequently exposed to the allergen (at home or in the doctor’s office), starting with extremely low doses, with the goal of desensitizing the patient to the allergen. As the dose is gradually increased over a period of months, the patient ideally achieves a level of protection that can prevent severe allergic reactions when accidentally exposed in the future.
How is a Tree Nut Allergy Diagnosed?
Because a tree nut allergy can have fatal outcomes, seeing an allergist for an accurate diagnosis is a matter of paramount importance. To diagnose a tree nut allergy, and to determine which specific tree nuts a patient is allergic to, the doctor may do an oral food test, where the patient is fed small amounts of the allergen to see the reaction. This is conducted in an allergist’s clinic where emergency treatment is available on hand.
Allergist in Northeastern Illinois
To receive treatment for tree nut allergies, you will need a confirmed food allergy diagnosis. At Oak Brook Allergists, we can conduct allergy-testing for you or your child and determine the best treatment approach for maximum safety and the best quality of life.
To schedule an appointment with one of our allergists, call our clinic at (630) 574-0460 or use our online request form. We proudly serve patients in our Downers Grove, Naperville, Elmhurst, and Plainfield locations.