How Peanuts Can Make A Parent Nuts

It wasn’t so long ago that the news of peanut butter in any food made me start to salivate. If an ice cream shop added a peanut butter sundae to their menu, I ran out to try it. A bakery made a new pastry with PB, I was there the next day. I loved the stuff and ate it daily on a sandwich, on crackers or right off of a spoon. That was until my first-born, then 2 years-old, had a serious skin reaction after being kissed by her grandfather who had eaten a peanut butter cup twenty minutes before. That week, after a blood test and skin prick test,  we found out she had a very severe peanut allergy.

Peanut butter became the enemy because it now was a dangerous and deadly poison. It could kill her and I was reminded daily about it when I saw the Epi-pen I had to carry with us everywhere we went.

Any parent of a child who has a food allergy understands this and according to the journal Pediatrics there are 5.9 million children with food allergies in the US, so there are a lot of us. A tiny peanut, not actually a nut but a legume, is enough to make us nuts.

My anxiety level decreased a bit over the years through lots of education and precaution. Peanut-free bakeries started to open up, manufacturers started selling peanut and nut-free products and schools started training faculty to understand allergies and use Epi-pens. But I have to be an advocate. I have to constantly remind people about what it means to have an allergy. That just because that cupcake you want to give my child doesn’t have a peanut IN it, doesn’t mean it’s safe for her. I have to avoid the looks and rolled eyes I get from some parents who think I’m just being an alarmist, overprotective mom. I’m not and even if perhaps I were, I’d much rather be overprotective than to take a chance with my daughter’s life.

But there are times that that anxiety creeps back in, like last week when I read about a 7-year-old Virginia girl who died at school after having an anaphylaxis reaction with no Epi-pen available. Currently only a few states have legislation to allow schools to have a stocked supply of Epi-pens to use on any child in need. That means in most states if a child is having an anaphylaxis reaction, the school cannot administer an Epi-pen, even if it has dozens in hand,  if it wasn’t prescribed for her. All it can do is call 911. The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act would change this if it’s approved.

Yesterday I found out Cheerios, a cereal that we’ve been eating since my daughter was an infant, is now making a Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter flavor. I immediately was upset and I wasn’t alone. I started reading lots of Tweets from other allergy parents upset with Cheerios. We wondered if that meant regular, good old Cheerios would now be off limits because of cross-contamination. Some moms of young children were upset that they looked almost exactly like Multi-Grain Cheerios and therefore their child might be confused and accidentally eat one on a playdate. The Washington Post wrote about it and has included Cheerios response, which says, “Cheerios has a commitment to allergen management. We can say with complete confidence that MultiGrain Peanut Butter Cheerios will not cross-contaminate other Cheerios varieties.”

Well that’s a relief! I bet Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter are delicious, and I would have loved it years ago, but now they are just another thing that causes anxiety. Things like that happen often. Dunkin Donuts’s Munchkins used to be safe until they the company started making peanut butter cookies. Rita’s Ice used to be a great summer treat until last year when they added peanut butter and Reese’s Pieces to the menu. It’s why I learned to read product labels each and every time I make a purchase. Companies add new products or switch factories frequently and the safety of a food product changes.

It’s important to know and truly understand everything there is to know about food allergies. This Facts and Statistics sheet by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is helpful. I highly recommend seeing a pediatric allergist and one who will let you sit with him/her for as long as it takes for you to ask every question you need to. Food allergies are not something to be taken lightly.

It’s not all bad though. There are many good things: the parents who really get it and have asked to be trained to use an Epi-pen so I can drop off my kid for a playdate,  the school nurse who sits with me every year to fill out an IHP (Individual Health Program) so all precautions are in place to make school safe and, best of all, my 8-year-old who when at the many times finds out she can’t have something at a party or a restaurant, just shrugs and says, “Okay, that’s not safe, I’ll just have something else.”

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  1. “The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of food-related death.[14] However, there is an increasing body of medical opinion that, while there definitely are food sensitivities, the dramatic uptick in frequency of nut allergies and more particularly the measures taken in response to the threat show elements of mass psychogenic illness, hysterical reactions grossly out of proportion to the level of danger:[1] “Dr. Christakis points out that about 3.3 million Americans are allergic to nuts, and even more — 6.9 million — are allergic to seafood. But of 30 million hospitalizations each year, just 2,000 are due to food allergies, and about 150 people die annually from serious allergic food reactions. That’s the same number of people killed by bee stings and lightning strikes combined. About 10,000 children are hospitalized annually with traumatic brain injuries from sports, 2,000 children drown each year, and about 1,300 die in gun accidents, he writes.” Media sensationalism has also been blamed.[15]
    Prevalence among adults and children is similar—around 1%—but at least one study shows it to be on the rise in children in the United States.[16] The number of young children affected doubled between 1997 and 2002.[17] 25% of children with a peanut allergy outgrow it.[18] In America, about 10 people per year die from peanut allergies.[19]”

    10 people die from peanut allergies per year in the us, 1500 from choking on food. Should solid food be banned in schools, airplanes and restaurants?

    The girl’s death like any child’s was very sad and tragic.

  2. According to these stats from The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology the number of yearly deaths in the US from food allergies is between 150 – 200. (

    I didn’t say, nor do I believe, that peanuts should be banned in schools, restaurants or on airplanes. However, I do believe that it is a school’s responsibility to ensure all children’s safety and make sure that every effort is in place to do so. And I expect restaurants and food companies to be strict with their labeling.

    I teach my daughter that the world will not change for her peanut allergy and that we are responsible to make sure she is safe. She knows to always ask, read labels, and tell people about her allergy.

    And yes, perhaps the percentage of people who die from food allergies aren’t as high as other causes, but I bet if YOUR child had a severe allergy that number would seem threatening.

  3. What’s the point of your post, ROC, besides just exhibiting your tendency to be a horse’s derriere? Are you afraid your individual liberties will be infringed upon by state-controlled peanut legislation?

    It should not be so difficult to get epinephrine. I just don’t get it. From what I understand, EMTs don’t always carry or are permitted to administer Epi-pens.

    Here’s the link for NJ–don’t see Montclair on the list.

  4. I think the media attention is focused on how fast the number of people with allergies is growing. All those other maladies (drowning, choking) have been common for a long time. Allergies are new and mysterious in some ways and we get them without being able to control it.

    One way to keep you safe when you go to restaurants is to use an allergy warning card like

  5. measures taken in response to the threat show elements of mass psychogenic illness, hysterical reactions grossly out of proportion to the level of danger

    Fools go where angels fear to tread…

    I have no horse in this fight and virtually no first hand experience, and lord knows no data. Just an anecdote. Over the hols a cousin was staying with us who is allergic to almonds. He accidentally ate a piece of pastry with almonds in it and started to get swelling in his throat. The reaction of his parents was completely unhelpful. They panicked, and of course he started to panic, too, which made his symptoms worse. As soon as everybody calmed down, the kid was as right as rain.

    So I don’t think it’s complete far-fetched that there’s some hysteria going on. Who wouldn’t be nervous about it, it’s frickin’ scary.

  6. Oh yes, I remember one time when my daughter was having a reaction to peanuts. We told her to calm down, actually did some yoga moves and voila! Her hives disappeared instantly, her eyes were no longer puffy, she stopped wheezing and her lips returned to a normal size. Who needs immunologists when you can just meditate a reaction away.

  7. And if you have no data, why bother posting? Because of some anecdote that sounds rather strange in my opinion?

    Any parent with a child with a true allergy would at least administer Benadryl if their child’s throat started to close. And problems breathing = Epi-pen, not a “let’s just calm down and the histamines will just go away all by themselves” approach.

  8. I’m telling you what I saw in one single instance: a pair of parents working their kid, who was having a mild reaction, into a highly anxious state. if you would like to share your perspective, as an allergy mom with tons of experience and degrees in biology and genetics, I’ll happily listen and perhaps learn something. If you want to just make sarcastic remarks about how you know all and I know nothing, well, then, I’m not particularly interested.

  9. I’m not saying ban drugs and administer yoga. I’m suggesting that perhaps anxiety worsens these reactions, turns small ones into big ones. Maybe this occurs in only a small number of cases. But when parents react so strongly, it effects the anxiety level, and symptoms.

  10. Georgette, the 150 you cite is for all food allergies. For peanuts, it’s 10 per year. All are tragedies to be sure. Obviously people highly allergic should carry epi-pens. Obviously school nurses should be equipped and trained.

    But, as a culture, we’re over-reacting. Peanuts should not be banned from schools (as they often are), nor airlines, nor cereal factories. Peanuts should no more be banned than solid food, which after all kills 150 TIMES more people per year.

  11. Nowhere did Georgette say that peanuts should be banned at school. You are over-reacting to what you perceive as an over-reaction. My daughter actually sits at a table that is not peanut free because we want her to be able to live in a world that is not peanut free.

    Airlines are a different story. When you are 30,000 feet above the air, it’s a good idea to minimize the possibility of anaphylaxis. The epinephrine wears off and reactions are sometimes biphasic. How much of a sacrifice is it for someone not to eat peanuts for a few hours of their life? How selfish can one be?

    It’s the same thing every time a story like this comes up. It’s the same people who get angry that there are any restrictions whatsoever on serving peanuts. And implying that the parents are just hysterical or the reaction is due to anxiety.

  12. “Nowhere did Georgette say that peanuts should be banned at school.”

    I never said she did.

    “How much of a sacrifice is it for someone not to eat peanuts for a few hours of their life?”

    The same for solid food then. it should all be liquified on airlines. After all, it is 150 times more likely that someone might choke to death.

  13. That’s a ridiculous analogy. Faulty logic as usual to prove a point that you should have as much freedom as you deserve at all times in your life. People need food to survive, they don’t need peanuts. But maybe you’re right and we should also ban water to prevent accidental drownings.

    Besides, reactions to peanuts usually don’t lead to death but the symptoms of a nonfatal reaction are very unpleasant to say the least. And if epinephrine is administered, the person has to stay in the hospital for 6 hours to monitor for a biphasic reaction.

    It’s nice that you show concern for those that have peanut allergies by commenting on how tragic a death is but very telling that you bother to protest not being able to eat peanuts on a plane. Have you been very inconvenienced in your life because of those with peanut allergies? I seriously doubt it.

    On a different note, epi-pens should be much more accessible/available. Teenagers don’t often carry them and reactions vary wildly.

  14. And not bothering to serve a puny little bag of peanuts is much easier than liquifying all food if you want to keep with your ridiculous analogy.

  15. “People need food to survive, they don’t need peanuts.”

    They can survive on liquid food just as well, too.

    I don’t protest the peanut issue, nor am I bothered by not having them on an airplane. But banning them does not make sense (any more than liquifying the food).

  16. “They panicked, and of course he started to panic, too, which made his symptoms worse. As soon as everybody calmed down, the kid was as right as rain.”

    Of course they panicked, they feared their child was having an anaphylaxis reaction. No one wants to see that happen. No parent also wants to inject Epinephrine into their child and see what that does — it’s not pretty, life-saving thank God, but not easy on a person. If the kid was alright (just hives, etc…) then it’s because in that instance that’s all the allergen caused, not because everyone calmed down. Allergic reactions are unpredictable.

    “Georgette, the 150 you cite is for all food allergies. For peanuts, it’s 10 per year.”

    Yes, I realize that ROC, but I was talking for all parents of a child with an allergy, not just myself. And again, if your child had a life-threatening allergy I bet knowing that even “just 10” children die a year from it would feel like pretty threatening. And the thing is, I do not even want to see my child have to go through the feeling of having her throat close up. The panic, the fear. I don’t want her to have to feel what a dose of Epinephrine coursing through her little body feels like.

    And again, my story is about the anxiety a food allergy causes for a parent. Not about a call to ban allergens. So I’m not sure why whenever a parent starts talking about their child’s food allergy, there are some parents who immediately start calling “hysteria.” and fighting for their child’s right to eat a PB&J sandwich.

  17. Georgette, I neither labelelled you “hysteric” nor framed this as a rights issue. I only posted what I thought was relevant and related information with a question, to get a discussion going.

    I think you are now projecting and over reacting.

  18. also I think your fabricated quote of me, “just 10” is particularly vile and unfair. You are suggesting I don’t think 10 children’s lives matter. I never said “just 10”.

  19. You’re right. I shouldn’t have put quotes around “just 10” you didn’t actually say that, just implied it.

  20. In the case of the case of the cousin, the hysterical reaction from the parents clearly exacerbated his symptoms. I know this because I was there. If things had gone differently–if cooler heads hadn’t prevailed–the poor kid would have wound up in the emergency room. Of course the parents feared anaphylaxis, that’s exactly my point. It’s a scary prospect that gets a lot of publicity and causes tons of anxiety. On that we seem to agree, no?

    If we can agree on that point, it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to surmise that hysteria plays some role in the peanut allergy phenomenon, does it? This is not to say that peanut allergies have no basis in biochemistry and are just a figment of parents’ imaginations. To write off all cases of peanut allergies as hypochondria would be akin to denying, say, that the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere affects temperature.

    The dynamic of this thread, I fear, has more to do with baggage from the paternalism of days gone by, which I’d rather leave in the department of lost claims.

  21. ROC, you remind me of a friend from college, a philosophy major who was always coming up with ridiculous analogies that offended everyone, precisely because they contained a kernel of truth. Yes, when you go by the numbers, choking is more dangerous on average than peanut allergies. Where it breaks down is in how the probabilities are distributed. The tiny chance of choking is shared more or less equally by all. The tiny chance of anaphylaxis from eating peanuts is borne by a tiny group of people who live in a state of fear. So it’s only civil that the majority gives up a very small convenience out of compassion for the minority.

    But of course you know already this.

  22. What I take from Georgette’s article is the importance of education and awareness in preventing serious health effects or, tragically, death. Although my own son does not suffer from any food allergies, he and I have drug allergies, and the reactions we both had before learning the severity of our allergies were (especially in my case) life threatening. I make sure all of our physicians, dentists, coaches, schools, etc. are aware of the allergies and always check and double check when prescriptions or medications are administered. I am a teacher, and some of my students have severe food and peanut allergies. It is inherent upon me to learn as much as possible about the allergies and their prevention. I have been trained on the administration of the epipen. I find Georgette’s admonition to constantly read and check product labels and never take it for granted ingredients remain constant in previously safe products to be excellent advice. As for “hysteria”: it is important to remain as collected and clear thinking as possible in all emergency situations, but we are human and prone to panic mode at times when it’s our child in danger. I don’t think the need for awareness and education and the call for such in the food industry, schools or airlines is over reactive…on the contrary, for me, I would rather that than sit helplessly by if one of my students had a reaction that could have been prevented or, subsequently, treated with knowledge and training.

  23. Walleroo,

    Was his name RAHUL K. PARIKH?

    “Let’s look at FAAN’s claims that 50,000 people a year end up in emergency rooms with allergic reactions and that between 150 to 200 people die each year from anaphylactic shock. That 50,000 is extrapolated from a study in which researchers looked at emergency room visits, due to anaphylaxis, in a single hospital over 10 years. The number of visits during one year was actually 211. The researchers then estimated that 211 people from one E.R. adds up to 50,000 people across the country. Whether that’s true remains to be seen. There’s no evidence that visits in one hospital correspond to visits in hospitals across the country.

    What’s also misleading is how FAAN couches this information in its press kit: “Food allergy is believed to be the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting, causing an estimated 50,000 emergency department visits each year in the U.S.” In fact, the study is citing any cause of anaphylaxis. FAAN suggests that 50,000 people visit an E.R. due solely to anaphylaxis from food allergies. That’s simply not true.”

    “The worst fallout is that doctors and medical groups who have fallen for the FAAN hype are doing more harm than good with their prescriptions to avoid peanuts. A study published last year compared the prevalence of peanut allergies in Jewish children in the United Kingdom (where young kids are told to avoid peanuts) with those in Israel (where peanuts are fine).

    Unlike the survey-based studies before it, researchers administered two strictly validated questionnaires to identify kids with allergies. Then those kids were tested. In all, about 5,000 kids were included in each group. The result: Less than 2 percent of U.K. children were allergic to peanuts, compared to a mere 0.17 percent of Israeli children. The authors concluded: “Paradoxically [avoidance of peanuts] might be promoting the development of peanut allergies and could explain the continued increase in the prevalence of peanut allergies.”


    “Nuts to That
    The people profiting from food allergies.”

    “The final piece stacking the deck in favor of food allergy paranoia came from FAAN’s biggest media coup of 2004: a video news release FAAN produced with Dey Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the Epi-Pen. It’s common for corporations to send out prepackaged releases that shill for products under the guise of news. The TV station is not required to state where it got the material it runs. FAAN used fake news “reported” by video news release voice-over actor Danielle Addair to promote its commissioned research. FAAN’s annual report states that the video news release was extremely successful: “In total, the VNRs aired more than 300 times in approximately 207 US markets. Overall, we reached more than 30 million viewers—the most successful VNR outreach in FAAN history.”

    “A small group of people is manipulating the scientific perspective on food allergies, exaggerating the perception of risk, and profiting from the flood of sympathetic private and government money. It’s time to re-examine the statistics and question the media spin on food allergies. This time, we need to be hyperaware of potential bias and exaggeration. Food allergies deserve respect and awareness, sure—but we make unwise decisions when we’re guided by fear. We should avoid telling one another horror stories about worst-case scenarios, or devising elaborate food bans. We should stop scaring ourselves based on manufactured evidence and remind ourselves that the vast majority of food-related allergic episodes are treatable. And when we look at proposed legislation like the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act of 2009, we should look at the fine print—which allocates tens of millions of dollars to food allergy education—and wonder exactly whose pockets will be lined with that money.”

  25. Or perhaps it was one of the child-hating quacks over at the British Medical Journal, walleroo?

    “This allergies hysteria is just nuts”

    “The justification offered for these measures is that children with nut allergies can react even to traces of nut dust in the air and that natural oils in nuts can leave residues that are difficult to remove with conventional cleaning products.

    There are three problems with this charade. Firstly, these responses represent a gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat. Secondly, there is no scientific evidence that the particular restrictions being imposed are effective or that they warrant the costs incurred. And, thirdly, and most importantly, these responses are making things worse.”

    “The issue is not whether nut allergies exist or whether they can occasionally be serious. Nor is the issue whether reasonable accommodation should be made for the few children who have documented serious allergies. The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies and what to do about the responses and the allergies themselves.

    The responses bear many of the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), previously and quaintly known as “epidemic hysteria.” MPI is a social network phenomenon involving otherwise healthy people in a cascade of anxiety. Outbreaks typically occur in small towns and in schools, factories, and other institutions, and they are most often prompted by fears of contamination. It does indeed provoke anxiety to imagine a hidden, deadly danger in so innocent a thing as having a snack in kindergarten. And being around others who are anxious heightens one’s own anxiety.”

  26. This article should be entitled, “How ROC makes logical, normal, thinking people nuts.”

    First of all, hysteria does not cause anaphylaxis. You either are allergic to peanuts or you are not. There are tests to determine whether someone is allergic, both skin prick and blood tests as well as a food challenge. IgG levels vary widely and are not always correlated with the risk for anaphylaxis, however. I do have degrees in science but I would never pretend to have a firm grasp on immunology. My fellow grad students would leave their immunology class in tears–it’s a complicated system. If it was not, we would have a cure for food allergies and know why they are on the uprise–the medical community is in the dark on this one and we have hypotheses at best that have not been consistently supported.

    You seem to be confused about something here, ROC. If one is allergic to peanuts and has had repeated reations, they should avoid peanuts. (Duh.) What is unclear at this time is when young children and babies should be introduced to peanuts–the data is mixed on avoiding or introducing early.

    How many places have you visited recently where peanuts are banned? They are not banned in any public school in Montclair. They are in preschools if there is a child in the class allergic to peanuts because young children are likely to eat each other’s food and are unable to comprehend what it means to be allergic to a food. And some summer camps for younger children have peanut bans. Big deal for God’s sake! The only one exhibiting any hysteria here is you over perceiving ridiculous bans that are not supported by statistics.

    I don’t know exactly what you think you are proving or why you would bother researching this and cherry picking articles without really understanding the basics.

    As I said before and it bears repeating, the real problem is how difficult it is to get epinephrine. The awful fatal outcomes are due to epinephrine not being available. A person, especially a teenager, who has not had a reaction in years is likely to forget to carry an Epi-pen and they should not be so hard to come by. Ambulances should have them. All schools should have them and if a student is suffering from anaphylaxis, then it should be administered ASAP. I went into the city last week with my daughter and realized I didn’t have her Epi-pen. Trying to get one from a walk-in clinic at Duane Reade was an impossible feat–it was like I was trying to score some morphine or something.

  27. And by the way, you need to ingest peanuts for a true systemic reaction. And peanut oil does not cause a reaction–there needs to be protein present.

    You really are getting yourself all worked up over this. There is a logical appraoch to managing risk and Georgette and I support it. You are just trying to prove some point for the sake of, well, proving some point that is important in your mind. Is a sense of pride driving this? Some brain pathology? Who knows.

  28. Yowza! Look at all the comments!

    I’m thankful that so far my children have not exhibited major allergies to foods or other things. No one has been stung by a bee so far, but that will come eventually, I’m sure.

    It’s stressful enough to let go of children without also worrying that they will suffer a life-threatening reaction without someone to help them through it. And that’s what the adults in schools or just in life need to be prepared to do. Tragedies like the one referenced in the post can, at the very least, remind us to be thoughtful and prepared. And in the meantime, be thankful that there are options and ways around the hazards we encounter.

  29. They called up people randomly and asked them if they had serious peanut allergies, in that study walleroo. That’s some serious science! I’ll bet you could use the same methodology to conclusively prove 98.8% of Americans are super-intelligent and well adjusted!

    But, seriously, read this regarding that study you cite:

    “Asking Sicherer, Sampson, and Munoz-Furlong to perform an objective study about national rates of seafood allergies is like asking a cigarette company to determine national rates of lung cancer.

    If you want to influence the answers in a survey, how you ask a question matters as much as what you ask. In the seafood study, pollsters dialed random numbers and asked whether any household members were allergic to seafood. This kind of phrasing yields a far greater number of “yes” responses than the question “has a medical professional diagnosed you with a seafood allergy?” Criteria for “convincing self-report” in the study were highly subjective, bumping up the numbers a bit more.”

  30. I’ll tell you what, ROC. I’ll stand naked on the cliff at Mills and shout to the entire world that peanut allergies are a hoax perpetrated by evil pharmaceutical companies, if you’ll stand next to me and announce that fossil fuel companies are funding a campaign to obscure the truth about global warming.

  31. Yowza! Look at all the comments!

    That’s what happens, Kristin, when you have someone stirring the pot. Frankly, the real conspiracy here, I think, is that ‘gette is paying ROC to drum up comments.

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