Tree nuts, including almonds, are one of the leading causes of fatal and near-fatal food reactions the United States. If you’re allergic, you can react after eating raw or processed almonds, such as almond butter. Many experts advise avoiding all tree nuts and peanuts, due to the risk of cross-contamination. Almonds have also been linked to allergies to some fruits and tree pollen, since they’re members of the same family.
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If you’re allergic, your body overreacts to a protein, or profilin, in almonds. Your immune system produces immunoglobulin E, an antibody and histamine. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, between 3 and 4 percent of people in the United States with food allergies are allergic to tree nuts. Allergies often develop in children, and about 9 percent outgrown them by the age of 6. Although usually classified as tree nuts, almonds are members of the Rosaceae family of fruits, which includes apples, pears, peaches and apricots. You’re more likely to be allergic if a close relative has an allergy, although researchers don’t know why.
Symptoms usually occur soon after eating almonds or almond butter. They include an itchy skin rash, sneezing, wheezing, a runny or stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes. You might experience cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. In some cases, you can have a very serious, anaphylactic reaction. If your throat swells and you have difficulty breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure or a weak, rapid pulse, seek emergency medical attention.
Tests and Diagnosis
If you suspect you or your child is allergic to almonds, talk to your doctor and describe the symptoms. You might be given a physical examination and asked your family’s medical history. It’s usually diagnosed through a skin or blood test. In a skin test, your skin is pricked to allow a tiny amount of allergen below the surface. If you’re allergic, a rash will develop. In a blood test, a sample is analyzed for antibodies, your body’s reaction to an allergen.
Treatment and Drugs
You can treat mild to moderate symptoms with prescribed or over-the-counter antihistamines. If you’re at risk of anaphylaxis, your doctor will usually prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector. Carry this with you at all times, and inject it into your thigh at the first sign of a serious reaction. Make sure your family and friends know how to use it. After use, go directly to the emergency room.
The best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid all foods containing almonds and other nuts. Since it’s a common allergen, the Food and Drug Administration requires all manufacturers to label foods containing nuts. Many labels also say if they’re made in a factory handling nuts, but this is not compulsory. Remember, nuts can be found in unexpected foods, such as salads, dressings, sauces, burgers and pies. Almond oil is also commonly used in lotions and shampoos. Check all labels carefully. Always tell restaurant staff about your allergy, and ask detailed questions about ingredients and food preparation.