SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- If you, or someone in your care, have a severe allergic reaction, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. The person having the reaction should not stand or walk. Administer an adrenaline (epinephrine) injector (such as EpiPen® or Anapen®) into the outer mid-thigh. Further doses of adrenaline may be given if there is no response after 5 minutes. Give adrenaline first, then asthma reliever puffer, if required.
- Peanuts and nuts that grow on trees are among the most common foods to cause a life-threatening severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
- Visit your doctor or a clinical immunology/allergy specialist to discover what is causing your allergy.
- If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, you will be prescribed an adrenaline injector which may be lifesaving.
- Your doctor will give you an Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Action Plan for Anaphylaxis for the brand of adrenaline injector prescribed.
- An ASCIA Action Plan for Allergic Reactions is a guide for people with allergies who do not have a prescribed adrenaline injector.
- The best way to manage a peanut, tree nut and seed allergy is to avoid all products containing these foods.
- Learn to read food labels so you can avoid foods that cause allergic reactions.
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Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and seeds
The term ‘nut allergy’ can be confusing, because we tend to use it to describe an allergic reaction to the fruit of unrelated plants such as peanuts, seeds and nuts that grow on trees. Peanuts are related to chickpeas and peas, whereas tree nuts include almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and walnuts. Seeds include sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and coconuts.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies in children and although the allergy may improve with time for some, for others it will become worse. People who are allergic to peanuts will not necessarily be allergic to tree nuts or seeds.
Symptoms of peanut, tree nut or seed allergies vary and range from milder reactions to anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms of nut allergy include raised red bumps on the skin (hives), runny nose, cramps, nausea or vomiting. The best way to manage peanut, tree nut and seed allergies is to avoid all products containing these foods.
Food allergies can be life threatening and peanuts, tree nuts and seeds are some of the most common food triggers for life-threatening severe allergic reactions.
If you, or someone in your care, have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Do not stand or walk. Administer an adrenaline injector (such as EpiPen® or Anapen®), into the outer mid-thigh. Further adrenaline may be given if there is no response after 5 minutes.
Symptoms of nut allergies
Each person’s immune system is different and peanut, tree nut and seed allergies can cause diverse signs and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. Many food allergies do not cause severe symptoms, but they can be life threatening in some people and should be taken seriously.
Some people have negative or adverse reactions to food (such as headache or bloating) that are not caused by allergies. These can be caused by factors such as food poisoning, toxic reactions or food sensitivities (intolerance). Although these are not allergic reactions, they are often mistaken for allergies.
Mild allergic symptoms that can occur before a severe allergic reaction include:
- raised red bumps on the skin – hives (urticaria)
- swelling of the lips
- tingling of the throat and mouth
- itchy skin and rash
- runny nose
- tightening of the throat
- digestive symptoms – cramps, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting.
If you, or someone in your care, have experienced any of these symptoms after eating peanuts, tree nuts or seeds, the risk of having a severe reaction after eating that food may be greater than usual. Ask your doctor to refer you to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist.
Keep a record of nut allergy symptoms
Diagnosing an allergy can be difficult. If you think you or a child in your care might have an allergy, keeping a record of symptoms can help you and your doctor to understand what is causing them.
Keep a diary that describes the symptoms, and when and where they occur. Your diary could include information about whether the symptoms occur:
- inside your home, outside or both
- for a short time or longer
- at night, during the day or when you wake up
- after you have had a particular food or drink
- after you have taken a herbal medicine.
Severe allergic reaction – anaphylaxis
Peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common foods to cause severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) which is life threatening.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:
- difficult or noisy breathing
- swelling of the tongue
- swelling or tightness of the throat
- difficulty talking or a hoarse voice
- wheeze or persistent cough
- persistent dizziness or collapse
- paleness and floppiness in young children.
If you, or someone in your care, have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
- Do not stand or walk.
- Administer an adrenaline injector (EpiPen® or Anapen®), into the outer mid-thigh, if available.
- Further adrenaline may be given if there is no response after 5 minutes.
- Give adrenaline first, then asthma reliever puffer, if required.
Causes of nut allergies
For all allergies, the immune system reacts to specific allergy triggers known as allergens. The immune system produces antibodies that detect the allergen and cause inflammatory reactions and the release of a chemicals including histamine. Histamine causes hives, hay fever and other allergic symptoms.
The proteins that trigger an allergic reaction can be present in a range of foods, and you may have an allergic reaction to foods containing that protein. For this reason, some people are allergic to the same trigger in cashews and pistachios. This is known as cross-reactivity. Speak to your doctor about cross-reactivity because it is difficult to predict.
In addition to peanuts, a wide range of tree nuts can also cause allergic reactions in some people. These include, but are not limited to:
- brazil nuts
- hickory nuts
- macadamia nuts
- pecan nuts
- pine nuts
The most common type of seed allergy is to sesame, although other types of seed, such as sunflower and poppy seeds, can also cause allergies. Allergic reactions to eating coconut, a large seed, are rare. However, an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) caused by contact with coconut, and cosmetics and products containing coconut, is more common.
Peanut, tree nut and seed allergies are difficult to predict, so visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
More research is needed into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of food allergy.
Diagnosis of nut allergies
If you have allergic symptoms, visit your doctor who will ask some questions about your allergic reactions. You can also discuss the diary record of your symptoms.
To diagnose your allergy, your doctor may refer you to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist who can test for allergies using a number of methods, depending on the type of potential allergy. To test for an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts and seeds, the specialist might:
- do a skin prick test
- do a blood test
- ask you to temporarily avoid all nuts or products containing nuts (elimination diet), then follow up with the introduction of nuts back into your diet (food challenge) under strict medical supervision.
Unproven methods to test for allergies
A number of methods claim to test for allergies but have not been medically or scientifically proven. They can be costly and could lead to dangerous avoidance of certain foods. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends that you do not use non evidence-based methods to have potential allergies tested. These methods include:
- cytotoxic food testing
- electrodermal testing
- hair analysis
- pulse testing
- Vega testing.
Always speak with your doctor if you are thinking of using a complementary medicine or therapy for allergies.
Treatment for nut allergies
The only treatment for food allergies is to avoid the food that causes your allergy. Even if you are careful, it is difficult to avoid all contact with a specific food.
If you are at risk of a severe allergic reaction and you have been prescribed an adrenaline injector (such as an EpiPen or Anapen®), the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends that you have an ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis for the brand of injector you have been prescribed. If you are not at high risk and have not been prescribed an adrenaline autoinjector, ASCIA recommends that you have an ASCIA Action Plan for Allergic Reactions.
Adrenaline autoinjectors are also available over the counter from pharmacies.
To assist with food avoidance, people with food allergies need to become familiar and comfortable with reading food labels. ASCIA has fact sheets to help you understand how to read food labels and what to avoid if you have a peanut, tree nut or seed allergy.
Inaccurate diagnosis can lead to expensive and ineffective treatments, and unnecessary food avoidance, which can lead to malnutrition and food aversion, especially in children. Always speak to your doctor about your food allergy diagnosis and treatment options.
Emergency treatment for severe allergic reactions
If you are at risk of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), carry an adrenaline injector such as EpiPen® or Anapen® and a mobile telephone.
Emergency responses for a severe allergic reaction are:
- Lay the person flat – do not allow them to stand or walk.
- Administer adrenaline with an injector (such as an EpiPen® or Anapen®) into the outer mid-thigh.
- Always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency.
- Further doses of adrenaline may be given if there is no response after 5 minutes.
- Give adrenaline first, then asthma reliever puffer, if required.
If you are at risk of a severe allergic reaction, make sure you:
- Have an ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis.
- Carry an adrenaline injector (such as an EpiPen® or Anapen®) to treat a severe allergic reaction.
- Consider wearing medical identification jewellery – this increases the likelihood that adrenaline will be administered in an emergency.
- Avoid medication (where possible) that may increase the severity of allergic reaction or complicate its treatment – such as beta blockers.
- Avoid the food that causes your allergic reaction.
- Tell food staff about your allergy when eating out.
- Seek medical advice from a doctor or clinical immunology/allergy specialist.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Your GP (doctor)
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- St John Ambulance Australia Tel. 1300 360 455
- Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia
- Peanut, tree nut and seed allergy, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).
- Dietary avoidance – peanut, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).
- Dietary avoidance – tree nut, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).
- Dietary avoidance – sesame, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).
- Coconut allergy, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).
- Nut allergy, Healthy Eating Advisory Service.
- Food allergen awareness, Department of Health, Victorian Government.