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A detailed overview of everything related to tree nut allergies and what you should know if you think you may be having a reaction.

Tree nut allergies are one of the most common forms of allergies that both children and adults experience throughout their lifetime. Avoiding tree nuts is an important part of dealing with this allergy, but keep in mind that they are an important source of minerals, vitamin and protein, especially in a child’s diet. Whenever possible, try to supplement the lack of tree nuts with other protein-rich foods, such as vegetables, meat, fruits, or dairy (provided these don’t cause other allergies).

What are tree nuts?

Some of the most common tree nuts are:

  • Chestnuts
  • Cashew
  • Brazil nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecan nuts

A common mistake is confusing tree nuts with peanuts and seeds. Tree nuts belong to a category of nuts that grow specifically on trees, while peanuts are underground legumes. However, it’s important to know that a lot of people who have a peanut allergy will also have a tree nut one. 

What causes a tree nut allergy?

It’s important to remember that people who suffer from a tree nut allergy are rarely allergic to just one type of tree nut. Doctors often recommend avoiding tree nuts altogether, although a person who’s allergic to pistachios may not be allergic to pecan nuts. 

Cross-contamination is a very common occurrence when dealing with food allergies, and especially with tree nut ones. It refers to a process where allergy-safe foods are contaminated by coming in contact with allergens. While it may occur at home, cross-contamination is mostly spread in factories and restaurants, where different types of food and products are being prepared close to one another, or using the same utensils. 

To avoid cross-contamination issues traced back to factories, carefully reading the labels of supermarket products is the best safety measure. There are allergen regulations instituted that force manufacturers to specify not just the ingredients of a specific product, but also to mention if the product was made nearby any allergens. For example, the label of a product may read that it was processed in a factory that also manufacturers X allergen. 

Restaurant cross-contamination is also a common phenomenon, and a hard one to avoid, at that. People who suffer from tree nut allergies should pick a restaurant where they trust the staff’s knowledge about food allergies. But even with all cautionary measures, having an adrenaline shot at hand shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Allergens are the ones responsible with triggering the actual allergy, so it’s important to avoid all tree nut proteins, which are found in foods such as: chocolate, energy bars, cereal, cookies, condiments, liqueurs and other alcoholic beverages, perfumes, shampoos, and more. 

What are the symptoms of a tree nut allergy?

Every organism can react differently to a tree nut allergy. Some symptoms can occur immediately after having consumed tree nuts, while others have a 30-minute delay. Some of the symptoms of such an allergy include either a runny nose or nasal congestion, difficulty in breathing or swallowing, itching in the face region or of other body parts, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, or wheezing.

In more severe cases, people can experience anaphylaxis, which a drastic form of allergy. Anaphylaxis can be recognized by red rashes or spots on the skin, vomiting, swollen throats, and difficulty in swallowing. A person that goes into anaphylactic shock may pass out and, if left untreated, the shock could lead to death. 

People who suffer from tree nut allergies should have an adrenaline shot prepared for such emergencies. The shot should always be accompanied by a call to 911, as hospitalization is recommended in order to keep the patient under close observation. 

Can it be treated?

Food allergies can threaten a person’s life, which makes accurate and fast diagnosis essential. A doctor will typically examine the medical records of a patient, as well as their family history, in order to confirm or deny any suspicions. Blood and skin test are generally performed to see if there are traces of immunoglobulin E (which is the antibody responsible for releasing symptom-causing chemicals into the body). 

There are cases where tests have been inconclusive. When that happens, the doctor may require the patient to eliminate allergy-suspicious food from their diet, to examine if there are any improvements. Sometimes, these food tests are performed by adding the suspicious allergen into the patient’s system, under the strict supervision of a specialist. In the case of an allergic reaction, emergency medication will be administered, and the allergy suspicions will be confirmed. 

No matter the type of allergy, the best possible treatment is prevention. Since tree nuts are one of the major allergens that trigger allergy symptoms, they are always listed in the ingredients of prepackaged foods and products. On a general note, food allergies cannot be treated, and tree nut allergy makes no exception. Doctors always advise people who suffer from any sorts of allergies to carry around an adrenaline injection at all times. With a simple press against the thigh of a person who’s having an allergy shock, you can save someone’s life. 

A very common question related to this condition is “Can children outgrow a tree nut allergy?”. Statistics show that about nine percent of children that suffer from it manage to outgrow it, but it’s typically a lifelong condition. In a family with two or more children, younger siblings are more prone to developing a tree nut allergy if their older brother or sister has it as well. 

Conclusion

As always, information is the key to survival. One of the best ways to cope and live with a tree nut allergy is to be prepared for cross-contamination occurrences. Once a person understands which are the tree nuts to avoid, it’s important to implement safety measures in all food-related situations. Pick a trustworthy restaurant. If possible, get rid of all allergens from your home, or be really careful when cooking meals for yourself and other family members that don’t suffer from allergies. Teach the people around you how to administer an adrenaline shot in case you go into shock.

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