A tree nut allergy is one of the eight most common food allergies within the United States. From the almond, walnut, pecan, cashew, pistachio, and hazelnut to the lesser-known pine nuts, tree nuts come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Along with peanuts and shellfish, tree nuts are some of the more common food allergens that are linked to anaphylaxis as a result of consumption. It is important to be aware of what treatment or management options are available to you. Chacko Food Allergy Treatment Center is proud to offer tree nut desensitization as a new treatment option for those who suffer from tree nut allergies.
Tree Nut Allergy
As mentioned above, there are many types of nuts that fall under the category of tree nuts, and because of that, there is some confusion over tree nuts and peanuts. Tree nuts are nuts that grow from trees and should not be confused with peanuts as peanuts grow underground and are classified as legumes. Coconuts and nutmeg are also food products that can cause some confusion when it comes to tree nut allergies. However, both are not classified as nuts and are generally safe for those with tree nut allergies to consume regularly if desired.
Tree nut allergies are fairly common throughout the United States and as such, it is legally required that the presence of tree nuts in products be listed and highlighted in clear language on ingredient lists. Some companies also include a warning label for products that do not contain nuts but were manufactured in a facility that may process tree nuts. Tree nuts are commonly found in baking mixes, bread, sauces, desserts, and baked foods, and are sometimes used as garnishes. However, they can also be found in non-food related products such as soaps, hair products, lotions, and oils.
Am I Allergic to All Tree Nuts?
If a patient is allergic to one type of tree nut, it does not necessarily mean that the individual is allergic to all tree nuts. However, because tree nuts are closely related, it is common for patients to be allergic to more than one type of tree nut. Due to the nature of tree nuts and the likelihood of cross-contamination, it is recommended that individuals with tree nut allergies avoid all forms of tree nuts to avoid an allergic reaction.
Ultimately, how you treat an almond allergy will be similar to treatment for other tree nut allergies. However, gaining clarity on the exact allergy trigger via the testing process makes managing this condition far easier.
Tree Nut Allergy Symptoms
Signs of an allergic reaction to tree nuts are not limited to but can include the following:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Difficulty swallowing
- Itching or swelling of the mouth, throat, eyes, and skin
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Shortness of breath
In severe reactions, the individual may fall into anaphylaxis shock, a potentially life-threatening reaction that impairs the body’s ability to breathe.
What Is Tree Nut Desensitization?
For the longest time and even still to this day, the treatment or management of tree nut allergies has been the avoidance of the allergen and to carry an Epi-Pen in case of accidental exposure. For many patients, tree nut allergies develop in childhood and persist throughout adulthood as less than 10% of patients outgrow the allergy.
However, we are proud to offer tree nut desensitization as an alternative treatment option. Tree nut desensitization is a form of oral immunotherapy, where the patient is exposed to small doses of their allergen in an attempt to improve the body’s tolerance. In this process, the amount of the allergen gradually increases over a period of months with daily exposure and is closely monitored in a clinical setting to ensure patient safety and health.
At the beginning of treatment symptoms and reactions are generally expected and are monitored carefully. As the treatment progresses these symptoms become milder, and in some cases, patients become completely desensitized resulting in minimal to no side effects after consuming five grams of their allergen.
It is important to note that oral immunotherapy is not designed to become a curative treatment option. Patients should continue to avoid their allergen, read labels carefully, and carry Epi-Pens on their person at all times in case of accidental exposure.
Oral immunotherapy is designed to reduce the risk of severe symptoms in patients in the event that there is accidental exposure. Patients who have success in this treatment do not generally add the allergen into their daily diet aside from their daily prescribed amount to maintain results. This is a continuous form of treatment that may span from months to even years. In a recent study with individuals undergoing 142 weeks of continuous treatment, over 75% of the patients became desensitized to several tree nuts and had no side effects or symptoms after consumption. Stopping treatment can lead to the return of a severe allergic response. There has been some success in patients achieving “sustained unresponsiveness”, meaning even after stopping treatment for a period of four weeks or more, the patient was still able to consume the allergen without a reaction. Sustained unresponsiveness is a higher goal of oral immunotherapy, but is not the aim of the treatment directly.
The Importance of Testing in Tree Nut Allergy Desensitization
The desensitization process aims to build a tolerance to specific allergens. Your allergist will conduct testing to effectively target the right tree nut allergen. With the information gathered from testing, a targeted approach to desensitization is made possible. Skin prick allergy testing is used most often, though blood tests or oral challenge tests may also be employed.
Contact Us for Tree Nut Allergy Desensitization
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