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November 14, 2010, PHOENIX
Living with an acute peanut allergy is difficult, scary and potentially life-threatening, but that doesn t mean schools and airlines should totally eliminate peanuts from their surroundings, according to Sami Bahna, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). People with severe peanut allergies can work with their allergist to develop an action plan to prevent or manage attacks. Dr. Bahna presents his perspective on the issue of peanuts in schools and on airplanes at the ACAAI annual meeting in Phoenix, Nov. 11-16.
Highly allergic people may react after ingesting minute hidden quantities of peanuts or even after touching or smelling peanuts. These patients often live in fear they will come in contact with peanuts, said Dr. Bahna. There are ways to make life livable and less frightening, but there is no guarantee that specific allergens can be removed entirely from an environment.
"Food allergies are serious and sources of the allergen can be hidden. Peanuts can easily be inadvertently eaten, especially outside of the home. Packaged products may contain peanut allergens, cooks can accidentally share utensils or oils, and patrons can inhale vapors from tableside cooking," Dr. Bahna said.
While peanut allergies are on the rise, only 1 percent of people allergic to peanuts are severely allergic to the smell or touch of peanuts, according to Dr. Bahna. Allergic reactions to peanuts can include abdominal pain, hives, swelling of the face, throat obstruction, wheezing and anaphylaxis, which is a sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction.
People with acute peanut allergies need to:
- Strictly avoid peanuts; including any food suspected that may be contaminated with peanuts
- Prepare their own food
- Take a long-acting antihistamine before potential exposure
- Control their underlying asthma well
- Wear medical alert identification, and
- Carry emergency medications (self-injectable epinephrine, albuterol inhaler and a fast-acting chewable or liquid antihistamine)
Parents of children with acute allergies need to pack home-prepared food and be sure their school, daycare and other caregivers:
- Have an action plan for allergic reactions
- Closely observe children with acute allergies when they eat
- Are trained in the administration of epinephrine and ready to call 911 for emergency treatment
- Clean potentially contaminated areas with soap and water
"Unfortunately, life is not risk-free," said Dr. Bahna. "A minority of people are severely allergic to peanuts, but it is not reasonable or possible to expect schools or airlines to be peanut-free. Consideration should be also given to the freedom of the vast majority of non-allergic persons. Also, peanut is not the only food that can cause severe allergy."
Regarding the airlines, Dr. Bahna suggests that people and parents of children with severe peanut allergies check to be sure the airline carries emergency treatment and educates their personnel about food allergies.
Allergies and asthma are serious diseases and should be treated as such. Allergists have the training and expertise to treat more than just symptoms. To learn more about allergies and asthma, take a free relief self-test or find an allergist near you visit www.AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.