What is airborne peanut allergy
A UNC allergist addresses the risk of airborne peanut allergies.
Your carry-on bag is safely stowed overhead, your little one is buckled in and playing with her favorite toy, and you’re ready to dive into the thriller you brought to read on your flight when you smell it.
Peanuts. You start to panic. Her EpiPen is somewhere in the carry-on above, but the “fasten seat belt” sign is glaring at you. What should you do?
Take a deep breath and relax. Even if you are allergic to peanuts, touching, smelling or inhaling particles from peanuts cannot cause an allergic reaction—at least not the serious, life-threatening type that everyone with a peanut allergy fears. You are not in harm unless you eat them.
Smelling Peanuts Is Not the Same as Ingesting Them
While it is possible to breathe in a little bit of food protein, such as a peanut protein, that exposure is not enough to trigger a severe allergic reaction.
“The way I attempt to visualize it is it comes below to a threshold amount,” Dr.
Kim says. “In order to get enough of an exposure to trigger a large reaction, it really takes ingestion. It is extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely rare for someone to just inhale it and then actually own an all-out anaphylactic attack.”
And while this thought holds for both peanuts and tree nuts, it’s significant for people who are allergic to seafood to be aware: Reactions without ingestion do occasionally happen, Dr. Kim says.
But the circumstances own to be just right; simply sitting next to someone eating shellfish, for example, won’t be a problem.
“There are reports where patients who are allergic to shellfish may be exposed to a steaming pot, perhaps at a clambake, and develop hives or asthma symptoms,” Dr. Kim says. “This is not (from) being in the same room as someone eating shrimp, but from directly breathing in the steam as it’s being cooked or boiled.”
What It Means to Be Allergic to Peanuts
When you’re allergic to peanuts, you’re actually allergic to the proteins found in peanuts. Antibodies in your immune system float around waiting to jump into action if they come into contact with these proteins.
This occurs when you eat a peanut—even a miniscule amount.
“When you own someone who’s allergic and ingests peanuts, the antibodies in the person’s immune system discover and grab onto this peanut and cause your body to release certain chemicals, the most significant of which is histamine,” says Edwin Kim, MD, director of the UNC Food Allergy Initiative.
Histamine can cause symptoms ranging from itching and hives to a severe, life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis must be treated with epinephrine, which comes in an injectable pen, often called an EpiPen, followed by an emergency medical evaluation.
When Exposure to Peanuts Can Cause a Physical Reaction
While just smelling peanuts won’t cause a severe reaction, if you’re allergic to peanuts, the smell can trigger a response in your body because it senses danger.
“Peanuts own a extremely potent smell.
The smell may be enough to trigger some of the anxiety, concerns and fear that rightfully come because you anticipate a reaction,” Dr. Kim says. “It’s a survival instinct. Your body knows there is something around that it should not be eating.”
Dr. Kim says that if you are allergic to peanuts, you can experience nausea or just feel a little off if you smell them. “And if the person who sat in an airplane seat before you happened to eat peanuts and was not extremely clean, you could potentially touch it in a chair and own a little bit of a rash or irritation” on the skin, he says.
So whether it’s on a plane or at the lunchroom table, wipe below the area if you smell peanuts or are concerned about residue.
Also, if you own a kid who is allergic to peanuts, make certain you teach him or her early not to share food with friends.
“If they’re too young to know not to share foods, then that might be the one time where an actual separated table (for children with peanut allergies) could make sense,” Dr. Kim says. “But as they get older and you feel love they own learned this and can control their instincts, there’s no reason they can’t sit alongside their friends.”
Talk to your or your child’s doctor if you’re concerned about food allergies.
If you need a doctor, discover one near you.
Edwin Kim, MD, MS, is an allergist at the UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinic in Chapel Hill and an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine. He is also the director of the UNC Food Allergy Initiative.
Why Do Some People React?
Reactions that appear to involve the smell of peanuts in the air are really every about what you're actually inhaling.
As I said above, the chemical compounds that comprise what we ponder of as the "smell of peanuts" don't contain peanut protein and therefore don't cause an allergic reaction.
However, peanut dust and little airborne particles of peanuts most definitely can cause an allergic reaction in someone with peanut allergy.
If every you're smelling is peanut butter, it's unlikely any dust or little pieces of peanut are floating in the air—after every, peanut butter is sticky, not dusty. One exception to this law is if you're smelling peanut butter near a nut butter grinder; it's not unusual for upscale grocery stores and health food stores to offer fresh-ground peanut butter, almond butter, and occasionally other types of nut butters.
These machines are a genuine potential risk and you should stay away.
Similarly, if people are shelling and eating peanuts in your vicinity, it definitely can spread peanut dust in the air. That means you could be smelling peanuts (which won't cause an allergic reaction by itself), but also actually inhaling dust and peanut particles (which can cause a severe reaction). This is an issue at stadiums that serve peanuts and in some stores and restaurants that offer free unshelled peanuts for customers to snack on.
In addition, when foods are cooked, they often release oils into the air—oils that can contain allergenic proteins and cause reactions. Boiled peanuts, or certain types of Asian foods that include peanuts and peanut sauce, could pose this risk.
Finally, trace amounts of peanut products can get onto hands and be ingested by someone with an allergy, causing a reaction, even if there's no peanut dust in the air.
So if you smell peanuts, you should be careful to wash your hands before eating or moving your hands near your mouth.
A Expression from Verywell
Just the smell of peanuts won't cause a reaction if you're allergic to peanuts. But the smell can warn you of the possible presence of actual peanut dust or oils in the air, and those can cause a potentially severe reaction. Tread with genuine caution if you're severely peanut-allergic and you believe you smell peanuts.
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By the time the Ryanair flight had touched below, four-year-old Fae Platten had been taken away by paramedics and a group of passengers were converging menacingly on a Zimbabwean man they accused of trying to kill her.
His crime? He had ignored requests by the air stewardess to refrain from eating nuts on the flight and had opened a packet while sitting four rows behind the girl.
The major allergic reaction it triggered almost killed her.
Fae stopped breathing and was only saved by an EpiPen injection istered by the flight crew.
The family knew their daughter had multiple allergies and was extremely sensitive to nuts, so passengers were told three times not to eat nuts on the three-and-a-half-hour plane journey.
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Fae Platten made the headlines final year after suffering a severe allergic reaction while on a Ryanair flight.
At the time, it was blamed on a fellow passsenger opening a packet of peanuts. But experts now tell airborne peanut allergies are nothing but a myth — and Fae’s reaction could only own been triggered by direct contact
The airborne myth
These stories of severe allergies are becoming increasingly common.
Food allergy rates in children own risen significantly, affecting up to 10 per cent of those in the West.
Researchers own suggested that in the past decade, cases of peanut allergies own doubled or even tripled, according to one US survey — and are becoming apparent in Africa and Asia.
We forget this condition was so incredibly rare that the first ever medical study into acute food allergy was in 1969 – just at the time of the moon landings.
Now one in 50 children in the UK and Australia is affected.
Faced with increasing numbers of young children potentially dropping dead from inhaling nut dust, there has been discussion about banning nuts on flights altogether, and worried parents own lobbied to own nut-free schools not only in California – but also in England.
The problem is that this airborne risk is a myth.
Although nut allergy is genuine and scary for parents and sufferers – it can’t for practical purposes be transmitted through the air enough to cause these severe reactions.
Professor Tim Spector argues that while nut allergy is genuine and scary for parents and sufferers, it cannot, for r practical purposes, be transmitted through the air enough to cause such severe reactions (file picture)
Researching the tale for my new book, The Diet Myth, I spoke to several of the world’s leading food allergy consultants including Adam Fox, a consultant in paediatric allergy at St Thomas’ Hospital.
He and his colleagues — who own worked for numerous years testing thousands of children with severe allergic reactions — had ‘never heard of nut vapours causing these severe reactions’.
Peanut particles are heavy and, although can form dust on surfaces, studies own been unable to detect peanut particles in the air — or the key allergens in the air in sufficient amounts to cause a reaction.
They every agreed that the plane incident as it was reported could not own occurred however strong the plane air conditioning or the belief of the parents.
Her lips or tongue must own touched something else directly. The timing was unlucky and the exact trigger still a mystery.
Professor Spector claims that studies own been unable to detect peanut particles in the air
The food allergy epidemic
But why are we going through such an epidemic of food allergies in children?
A recent study has shed light on this – and our diet is a likely culprit.
Australian researchers used mice sensitive to allergies and asthma and found they could prevent the risk of young pups being allergic depending on what the mom ate in pregnancy.
The higher the fibre content and the more food diversity, the lower the rate of subsequent allergies.
What was really novel was that gut microbes were crucial to the process.
Pregnant mice with the high-fibre diet had a group of microbes that produced an anti-inflammatory chemical called acetate.
When they looked at human pregnancies, a similar association with dietary fibre was seen with the chemicals produced by microbes.
The higher the fibre intake, the higher the acetate levels and the less allergy in their children.
These trillions of diverse bacteria in our lower guts hold us healthy.
They do this by feeding off the fibre from wealthy foods and converting the nutrients to healthy chemicals that suppress our immune systems.
So the higher the fibre content and diversity in meals, the better the effect on the immune system.
The growing fear of allergies
Pregnant mothers now are under huge pressure to be healthy — but the advice they get is conflicting.
Although nut allergy is genuine and scary for parents and sufferers – it can’t for practical purposes be transmitted through the air enough to cause these severe reactions
Many with allergic families are told to cut out foods or avoid eating peanuts (there is a common belief that eating peanuts will lead to a peanut allergy in babies later).
Others are routinely told to avoid eating French cheese or salamis, raw or undercooked meats because of the risk of extremely rare infections that other countries don’t worry about.
In this way they anxiously finish up on extremely restrictive diets, lacking diversity and fibre.
These diets could be having the opposite effects to those intended as they starve our gut microbes of nutrients and reduce the immune dampening chemicals they naturally produce.
An increasing trend is that numerous of us ponder we own food allergies when we don’t.
One study found that while 38 per cent of people ponder they own a food allergy, the genuine figure is closer to around 1 per cent
This exaggerated fear of allergies means that parents are preventing some children from eating foods such as wheat, nuts, eggs or milk.
Food allergy rates in children own risen significantly, affecting up to 10 per cent of those in the West
Paradoxically, peanut allergy looks love it could be cured by reintroducing tiny amounts of peanuts slowly early in life.
Early studies also propose microbes can assist prevent the allergy as introducing probiotics has also helped.
Data so far shows non-allergic mothers who eat peanuts are less likely to subsequently own peanut allergic children.
And a change of heart may finally be underway after interim guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and based on a peanut trial led by Gideon Lack at King’s College London, suggested that babies at high-risk of developing peanut allergy are protected from peanut allergy at the age of five if they eat peanut frequently, starting within their first 11 months.
So let’s stop banning foods love peanuts and dairy products, and living in hygienic antiseptic bubbles.
To extract us from the allergic cycle we are in, we should be encouraging food diversity in our diets from an early age to hold our gut microbes as healthy as possible.
We every need to increase consumption of ‘microbe friendly’ foods, a diverse range of fibre-rich and fermented foods including regular nuts and seeds, with less fear about holding back from what children eat.
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Peanut Allergy Involves Proteins
Your allergy to peanuts actually is an allergy to the specific proteins found in peanuts. These proteins are present in the peanuts themselves, and in foods made with the whole peanut.
The proteins aren't present in purified peanut oil (which is fat, of course, not protein), and that's why most people who are allergic to peanuts can nonetheless consume peanut oil without getting a reaction.
Those specific allergenic peanut proteins also aren't present in the airborne flavor and aroma compounds that create the odor of peanuts. The smell (or odor) of peanuts is contained in smaller organic compounds that are not peanut protein.
Yes, you inhale (and potentially ingest) these flavor and aroma compounds when you smell peanuts, but since they don't contain the problematic proteins, you won't react to them.
In fact, medical researchers own tested this: they exposed 30 peanut allergic subjects to peanut butter and a soy butter placebo for 10 minutes each at a range of one foot.
Although the subjects could smell the peanut butter (and the soy butter, both of which were disguised by a combination of mint and tuna fish to hold participants from detecting which was which), none of them reacted to the peanut butter.
Many of these children had a history of prior contact-based or inhalation reactions to peanuts. The researchers concluded that "casual exposure to peanut butter" shouldn't cause problems in 90% of children who are highly sensitive to peanuts. That's not 100%, of course, so you still should be careful.