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What Is A Tree Nut Allergy?

Updated on February 16, 2013
Cashews
Cashews

Our Family Experience With the Unknown Tree Nut Allergy

When my granddaughter was three-years-old, she accompanied family to a softball game. Another child in the stands offered her a snack containing cashews. The aftermath of circumstances to follow raised everyone's awareness about tree nut allergies and the seriousness of the effects. My granddaughter immediately broke out into a rash. During a break from the game, an aunt who is a nurse gave her an allergy medication thinking she had an allergic reaction to something she consumed. This made sense because she had a rash. Meanwhile, they loaded up and returned to the game. Unexpectedly, my granddaughter began having problems breathing and ultimately was rushed to the local children's hospital. The mounting question was "what did she have to eat at the game?" The answer that made the most sense involved the shared snack.

Since that experience, we have become urgent label readers for another reason and although she is seven now, she knows the routine of "what are the magic ingredients." For a time period, she was also allergic to items containing corn like corn syrup. She has since outgrown this which is a good thing because there are a lot of food products with this ingredient. Any item, though, related to tree nuts, including spices like nutmeg, she cannot have. Sadly, too, she can't consume popcorn in a movie theater because it is made with coconut oil.

Pecans
Pecans

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is defined as having a very serious reaction to allergens which is very rapid in its onset and this can even result in death. The symptoms my granddaughter had included the itchy rash and throat swelling which was affecting the breathing. This can also be accompanied with a low blood pressure. I can assure you that due to this experience for all family members, we will never provide this type of food to children without awareness of an allergy test.

With the information we were provided, there are now EpiPens in the household for emergencies. An EpiPen injects medicine with the properly prescibed dosage for the afflicted child or adult who has an allergic reaction to a food source. An allergy test is routinely provided which indicates which types of foods or ingredients have been outgrown as an allergen; however, there will always be the concern for tree nuts, and most specifically, the cashew. Ironically, though, my granddaughter can have peanuts and peanut butter because peanuts don't grow on trees.

The most common foods in our country causing allergic reactions include: peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, and eggs.

Example of An Appropriate Label Listing Food Allergens

Food label from granola bark.
Food label from granola bark. | Source

Food Labeling

In 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was enacted as a law to address the subject of packaged food labeling that is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Under this Act, it lists eight catagories of foods or food groups defined as a major food allergen. This list includes the following: milk, egg, fish, Custacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans. This list is noted as accounting for 90% of allergies related to a food or food group and as such, manufacturers or distributors have to meet labeling requirements.

As of January 1, 2006, any packaged food item containing any item from the above list has to have a label indicating same. When you're dealing with a friend or family member who has a tree nut allergy, you quickly learn to read on a label under "Contains," what it does contain, e.g., milk, wheat, almonds, etc. You also note whether the packaged product may have been in contact with tree nuts at its manufacturing facility.

FDA.gov lists the following tree nuts which have to be identified on labels under the above Act and notes although these may not all be contained in a packaged product, they are tree nuts:

Almond

Beech nut

Brazil nut

Butternut

Cashew

Chestnut (Chinese, American, European, Seguin)

Chinquapin

Coconut

Filbert/hazelnut

Ginko nut

Hickory nut

Lichee nut

Macadamia nut/Bush nut

Pecan

Pine nut/Pinon nut

Pistachio

Sheanut

Walnut (English, Persian, Black, Japanese, California), Heartnut

(Source: fda.gov)

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