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Some People Can’t Identify the Nuts They’re Allergic To

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Updated: 11/15/2011 5:02 pm

Nov. 16, 2010 -- Many adults and children with nut allergies are unable to identify different types of tree nuts and peanuts, which could increase the risk of exposure and life-threatening allergic reactions.

Researchers led by Todd L. Hostetler, MD, and Bryan Martin, MD, from The Ohio State University Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, surveyed 1,105 children and adults. Less than 3% of the group reported having a nut allergy. Twenty study participants were parents of children with a nut allergy.

Study participants were asked to review a nut display featuring peanuts and nine tree nuts in 19 different forms and to identify the nuts. The researchers found that neither the children nor adults accurately identified all forms of the nuts. Among the study’s other findings:

  • Less than half of the nuts (44.2%) were accurately identified by all study participants.
  • Only 21 participants in the group (1.9%) correctly identified all 19 nuts.
  • Nearly 95% of the group managed to correctly identify a peanut in its shell; when taken out of the shell, only 80.5% accurately identified the peanut.
  • The hazelnut, both with its shell and without, was the least identified item with only about 16% of the group getting that one right.
  • Half of the study group who had peanut or tree nut allergies correctly identified all forms of the nuts that triggered their allergies.
  • More than 73% of the parents of children with nut allergies correctly identified all forms of nuts that triggered their child’s allergies.

The study results were presented this week at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual conference in Phoenix.

Nut allergy is one of the most common food allergies among children and adults and is the leading cause of death from food-induced anaphylaxis. The researchers say more than 3 million people in the United States report being allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, or both. Tree nuts include almonds, cashews, coconuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts, among others.

Patients with nut allergies are often advised to avoid nuts entirely, from not eating nuts to not even touching products manufactured in facilities that may have been exposed to nuts. “Treatment of nut allergies with dietary avoidance should include education for both adults and children on identification of peanuts and tree nuts,” the researchers say in a news release.

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