If your child or a child in your care suffers from nut allergies, then you need to be fully aware of how it affects them and how to minimise the risk.
Research suggests that up to a quarter of a million children in the UK, or about one in 50 children, are allergic to nuts, making it one of the most common forms of food allergies. An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to the allergen (ie nuts) and regards it as harmful. For most people, nuts won’t be harmful and are safe to eat, but for nut allergy sufferers the body doesn’t realise this and is very sensitive to them.
The symptoms caused by an allergy to nuts vary. Once a nut allergy sufferer has consumed or come into contact with nuts, their symptoms will probably occur very quickly, often within a few minutes. Some of the mild symptoms include:
- Suddenly developing a rash, having itchy skin or itchy eyes
- Feeling breathless
- Getting a tingling sensation in the mouth, on the tongue or on the lips
- Abdominal pains, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Developing a runny nose or suddenly sneezing a lot
For those that have a more severe nut allergy, they may also become dizzy and experience swelling of the lips, throat, tongue or face. This can make it difficult to breathe and in some case may cause Anaphylaxis.
Which Nuts Are Involved in Allergic Reactions?
A variety of nuts are involved in nut allergies, with many people being allergic to several of them. Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts and almonds are all types of tree nuts (they grow on trees), whereas as peanuts are essentially legumes as they grow underground. However, it is possible to be allergic to both tree nuts and peanuts, with them producing similar effects. If peanuts are an issue, as they are legumes and linked to the pea and bean family, then peas and beans may cause reactions, too.
Dealing With Nut Allergies
For children suffering from mild allergies to nuts, they may have to consume a nut for an allergic reaction to be triggered. But for those with severe allergies, just being near nuts, touching a nut, using cutlery that has been in contact with nuts, or being close to someone else who has eaten nuts recently can trigger the reaction. This is quite extreme and, for parents, can be a real worry. Although you can control your eating habits and environment to a good extent at home, when your child is out and about, at nursery or at school, it can be much harder.
If your child does have a nut allergy, then it’s important to let the nursery or school know, so they are fully aware of it. You should also provide any medication that your child needs to take and, if the allergic reaction is severe and they could be at risk of anaphylaxis, you’ll need to provide them with an EpiPen or similar injection to use should an anaphylactic attack occur.
It’s also a good idea to ensure your child knows about the allergy themselves, what they need to avoid and how to respond if an allergic reaction occurs. Although this is tricky in younger children, as the child reaches the age of five or six they should begin to have more awareness and a greater understanding of their allergy.