By Robin Westen
If you're allergic to the legume (a peanut is not a nut) even the smell can set off a reaction. And for children or seniors with neurological problems, special care has to be taken about eating what doctors have labeled the "Foreign Body that Most Frequently Goes Down the Wrong Way" - down the windpipe into the lung instead of down the esophagus into the stomach. A peanut in the windpipe can cause respiratory distress, pneumonia, and other pulmonary complications.
For most of us, peanuts - by themselves or ground into a smooth or chunky butter - provide a tasty, inexpensive source of protein, and the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich is a staple of the diet for many of our grandchildren. But peanuts are especially dangerous for small children, either because of accidental inhalation, or because they insert them into their noses, which can cause a serious infection. In fact, some doctors recommend that children under five years old not be fed nuts or seeds of any kind.
Peanut allergy is even more serious. It can cause serious reactions - generalized flush, hives, obstruction of the larynx, severe asthma, cramps, diarrhea, nauseas, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and shock. There have been an increasing number of cases where people have become seriously ill because they inhaled near an open jar of peanut butter, ate a small amount of an hors d'oeuvre prepared with peanut oil, or shared a bottle of soda or water, or kissed the lips of someone who'd been eating peanuts, or ate a prepared snack that had peanuts processed into it.
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Children who seem to have an instinctive dislike of peanuts may be signaling their sensitivity to the legume and should not be forced, for example, to eat peanut butter sandwiches. Because people with peanut allergy can also be allergic to other members of the same plant family, they should also avoid lentils, licorice, dried peas and beans, clover and alfalfa.
If you are severely allergic to peanuts, it's a good idea to carry an epinephrine injection - and for your doctor to show you how to use it. If you are exposed, vomiting is sometimes a relief. If not, get medical attention - immediately.
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