Key points

  • Peanut allergy can be very severe and in some cases life threatening
  • Symptoms of peanut allergy tend to appear almost immediately after exposure in sensitised people
  • Peanut allergy is believed to affect 1 in 55 children in the UK

Introduction

Peanuts, also called ground nuts or monkey nuts, are a common cause of food allergies especially in the USA where the consumption of peanuts is high. During the 1980s and 90s there was an increase in the number of reported peanut hypersensitivity cases in the UK, suggesting that peanut allergy was becoming more common here as well. But it seems that prevalence has not continued to increase, according to a series of studies conducted in a stable population on the Isle of Wight.

An adverse reaction to peanuts is a true food allergic response involving an over-reaction of the immune system and production of IgE antibodies. The symptoms of peanut allergy can vary from mild to very severe, life-threatening reactions. Indeed, peanuts along with tree nuts have been identified as the most likely food to provoke the extreme form of severe food allergy reaction, anaphylaxis. The potential severity of peanut allergy requires extra care and alertness from those affected by the condition and lay people around them. The wide usage of processed peanut products in foods means that the issue of peanut allergy is also of great significance to the food processing industry which has the responsibility of ensuring that its products are labelled so as to alert purchasers to the presence of potential allergens products. See what is food allergy and intolerance for more information.

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