Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about various food allergies, specifically those related to peanuts and gluten. Both are very different allergies that cause different symptoms. Though there are many types of food allergies, I’m just focusing on these two.

Peanut allergy
A peanut allergy is very different than any other nut allergy, because peanuts aren’t really nuts. They are part of the legume family (think lentils, peas, etc.). The symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, hives, swelling in the lips and face, abdominal pain, eczema and asthma. The immune system creates antibodies that trigger the release of chemicals in the body that lead to very severe reactions in some people. In severe cases, a person may need to head straight to the hospital and receive a shot of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). This hormone aids in the “fight or flight” response of the nervous system by reducing air passage swelling and raising the heart rate. If the allergic reaction is severe and no hormone is administered, this allergic reaction can lead to sudden death. It is very serious. Currently, there is no treatment for peanut allergies; however, there has been some success in slowly administering (over time) peanut substances to children, allowing the immune system to slowly adapt. This is done under careful medical watch and is not proven to be a cure as yet. The best way to avoid the reaction is to avoid peanuts. Some people do outgrow this allergy.

The only way to find out if you are allergic to peanuts is to try them and see if you have a reaction. My best friend’s daughter ate some peanuts with her dad when she was about 3 years old. Shortly afterward, she was vomiting profusely and could not breathe. She was rushed to the hospital, received a shot of adrenaline, and was fine. Now, however, they carry a shot of the medicine with them at all times; and three years later, the poor little girl can’t even stand the sight of peanuts.

Gluten allergy
This is an allergy that is fairly new to us. Many people have sensitivity to gluten and don’t realize it, and the symptoms range from very minor to severe. In some cases, the reaction is similar to that of a peanut allergy: hives, vomiting and difficulty breathing. The more serious reaction is hard to identify as a gluten allergy because the symptoms are similar to the flu: severe abdominal pain and vomiting but no asthma-type reaction. The allergy interferes with the immune system, and inhibits your body’s ability to digest food properly. People may have stomach upset and diarrhea and/or trouble gaining weight, and have no idea that gluten is causing the problems. The symptoms are often diagnosed as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or some other gastrointestinal disorder. The problem with diagnosis of this allergy is that it can be related to different types of wheat, making it very difficult to detect.

The most severe gluten allergy is celiac disease. I’m personally familiar with this because my niece has it. The only way you know you have celiac disease is if you’re tested for it specifically. It’s a disease that affects the small intestine and is found in genetically predisposed people (i.e., runs in the family). It’s estimated to affect 1 in 1,750 people. While there is no cure for this allergy, getting tested is your best defense. Changing your diet is a must, and it is a lifelong commitment.

It’s important to know that even healthy foods such as peanuts and whole wheat products can still be harmful. Be careful what you feed your children and pay attention to small symptoms after you or someone you know eats high-risk foods. Food allergies are very common, but once detected, they can be dealt with and you can live a very normal and healthy life. Always remember: you’re worth it.