This is a gentle reminder to parents and students to make sure that you do not bring nuts to school since there are students suffering from severe allergy. Please read below to understand more about this allergy, which can be life threatening.
Oh, nuts! They sure can cause you trouble if you’re allergic to them — and a growing number of kids are these days.
So what kind of nuts are we talking about? Peanuts, for one, though they aren’t truly a nut. They’re a legume (say: LEH-gyoom), like peas and lentils. A person also could be allergic to nuts that grow on trees, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and pistachios.
When you think of allergies, you might picture lots of sneezing and runny noses. But unlike an allergy to spring flowers, a nut or peanut allergy can cause difficulty breathing and other very serious health problems. That’s why it’s very important for someone with a nut or peanut allergy to avoid eating nuts and peanuts, which can be tough because they’re in lots of foods.
Why Does the Body Go Nuts Over Nuts?
When someone has a food allergy, his or her body sort of misfires. Instead of treating a nut or peanut like any old food, the body reacts as if the nut or peanut is harmful. In an attempt to protect the body, the immune system produces antibodies (special proteins designed to fight infections) against that food.
These antibodies — called immunoglobulin E (IgE) — are designed to fight off the “invaders.” IgE antibodies trigger the release of chemicals into the body that can lead to allergy symptoms. One of these is histamine (pronounced: HISS-tuh-meen). The release of histamine can affect a person’s lungs, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and cardiovascular system, causing allergy symptoms like cough, wheezing, congestion, stomachache, vomiting, itchy hives, and swelling.
A person with nut or peanut allergies could have a mild reaction — or it could be more severe. An allergic reaction usually happens right away, but some people can have another reaction a few hours after they eat a nut or peanut.
Here are some of the problems an allergic reaction can cause:
Skin: Skin reactions are the most common type of food allergy reactions. They can take the form of itchy, red, bumpy rashes (hives); eczema; or redness and swelling around the mouth or face. A rash can happen when a nut or peanut comes in contact with the skin, even without eating it.
Gastrointestinal system: Symptoms can take the form of belly cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Respiratory system: Symptoms can range from a runny or stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes, and sneezing to the triggering of asthma with coughing and wheezing.
Cardiovascular system: A person may feel lightheaded or even faint.
In the most serious cases, a nut or peanut allergy can cause anaphylaxis (say: an-uh-fuh-LAK-sis). Anaphylaxis is a sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction. A person’s blood pressure can drop, breathing tubes can narrow, and the tongue can swell.
People at risk for this kind of a reaction have to be very careful and need a plan for handling emergencies, when they might need to use special medicine to stop these symptoms from getting worse.
How Is It Treated?
There is no special medicine for nut or peanut allergies and many people don’t outgrow them. The best treatment is simply to avoid the nut. That means not eating that nut, and also means avoiding the nut when it’s mixed in foods. (Sometimes these foods don’t even taste nutty! Would you believe chili sometimes contains nuts to help make it thicker?)
Staying safe means reading labels and paying attention to what they say about how the food was produced. Some foods don’t contain nuts, but are made in factories that make other items that do contain nuts. The problem is the equipment can be used for both foods and leads to “cross-contamination.” That’s the same thing that happens in your own house if someone spreads peanut butter on a sandwich and dips that same knife into the jar of jelly.
After checking the ingredients list, look on the label for phrases like these:
“may contain nuts”
“produced on shared equipment with nuts or peanuts”
People who are allergic to nuts also have to avoid foods with these statements on the label. Some of the highest-risk foods for people with peanut or tree nut allergy include:
cookies and baked goods
Asian and African foods
sauces (nuts may be used to thicken dishes)
Talk to your doctor about how to stay safe in the school cafeteria. Also ask about how you should handle other peanut encounters, like at restaurants or stadiums where lots of people are opening peanut shells. Very few people who have nut allergies will have a reaction if they are exposed only to small particles in the air, since the food has to be eaten to cause a reaction. But talk it over with your doctor.
Have an Emergency Plan
If you have a serious nut or peanut allergy, you and a parent should create a plan for how to handle a reaction, just in case one occurs. That way your teachers, the school nurse, your basketball coach, your friends — everyone will know what a serious reaction (anaphylaxis) looks like and how to respond.
To immediately treat anaphylaxis, doctors recommend that people with a nut or peanut allergy keep a shot of epinephrine (say: eh-puh-NEH-frin) with them. This kind of epinephrine injection comes in an easy-to-carry container. You and your parent can work out whether you carry this or someone at school keeps it on hand for you. You’ll also need to identify a person who will give you the shot.
You might want to have antihistamine medicine on hand too, though if anaphylaxis is happening, this medicine is not a substitute for epinephrine. After getting an epinephrine shot, you would need to go to the hospital or a medical facility, where they would keep an eye on you for at least 4 hours and make sure the reaction is under control and does not happen again.
Handling Your Nut or Peanut Allergy
If you find out you have a nut or peanut allergy, don’t be shy about it. It’s important to tell your friends, family, coaches, and teachers at school. The more people who know, the better off you are because they can help you stay away from the nut that causes you problems.
Telling the server in a restaurant is really important because he or she can steer you away from dishes that contain nuts. Likewise, a coach or teacher would be able to choose snacks for the group that don’t contain nuts.
It’s great to have people like your parents, who can help you avoid nuts, but you’ll also want to start learning how to avoid them on your own.