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Living with a peanut allergy

  1. A food allergy is a tricky problem, especially when it comes to something found in many foods. Fortunately, an allergy to peanuts is not as serious as, for example, cow's milk or gluten allergy, because peanuts are fairly easy to avoid in the Netherlands. But it can be annoying, for example when traveling abroad.

How do you become allergic to peanuts?

  1. This may seem like a simple question, but it is not. Allergies arise because the body decides without explanation that a certain product in the body is wrong, in the case of peanuts a protein. Allergy is partly hereditary and a peanut allergy is associated with other problems such as hay fever and asthma. The first contact with the peanut protein does not lead to problems, but it does ensure that the immune system wakes up and produces antibodies. At a subsequent contact, the foreign substance is therefore combated as if it were an intruder, resulting in specific physical reactions. These reactions are caused by the immune cells breaking open to fight the peanut proteins and histamine is released. With a food allergy, it is generally the case that each subsequent contact results in a more intense reaction and that makes it extremely important to avoid contact. The use of antihistamines such as loratadine or cetirizine, which are also used for hay fever, is a first step in counteracting the reaction.

How about a peanut allergy?

  1. Every person is different and depending on how often you have been in contact with peanuts, your body reacts differently. Some people go into anaphylactic shock, which means they are in acute danger to their lives unless given immediate adrenaline. These people must therefore always carry a so-called epi-pen. In less sensitive people, the common reactions are:

What can you not eat if you have a peanut allergy?

  1. The list is actually not that bad, but it also depends on the strength of your response. Of course you cannot eat anything with peanuts in them: cocktail nuts or Japanese mix balls, peanut butter, satay sauce, chips with peanut flavor and Snickers or other bars with peanuts. Some people are also allergic to nuts or seeds at the same time, which means that they have to be much more careful. However, there are also products that you should be careful with if someone with peanut allergy you do not expect:

How do you deal with peanut allergy? And abroad?

  1. You can communicate easily in your own country, so the chance is much smaller that something goes wrong. Make sure you always have medicines with you, for example by putting them in your wallet. Make your environment aware of your problem, but also realize that someone who does not have this problem themselves may forget it. You always remain responsible for communicating it in time.


  1. On vacation, the problems can start on the plane, because there are still companies that hand out peanuts as a snack or use them in meals. The bags of peanuts that all open around you at the same time without you being able to step away can certainly be annoying and provoke a reaction. It is important to notify the airline that you have a peanut allergy so that they can take it into account. This is not a 100% guarantee that everything will go well, so it is safest to bring your own food (possibly in consultation). Of course you bring medication. In case of an epi-pen you must have a note from the doctor because it is a syringe.


  1. It can be difficult to communicate about your allergy or find out the ingredients of products because you cannot read the language. Before you leave, make sure you know how to say and write the word peanut so that you can check. It may be helpful to carry a translation of a phrase such as "I am allergic to peanuts and eating peanuts is causing a medical problem." Or even "I'll die if I eat peanuts." Peanut allergy is an unknown problem in some countries (ironically, precisely those countries where a lot of peanuts are eaten) and people think that your request for no peanuts is just a preference and not a dire necessity. So if you don't want to eat a dish because it contains peanuts, they think they will help you by just removing the peanuts. It may be dramatic to pretend to die when not strictly speaking, but sometimes it can be necessary to make people understand that it is serious.


  1. Also adjust your expectations about products. An ice cream cone usually has hazelnut pieces in the Netherlands, while peanut is often used in America. A known product can be made with other ingredients elsewhere, so you cannot automatically assume it is safe. Be careful with spicy food as this will mask the onset of the reaction (a stinging sensation in the mouth).

Peanut oil

  1. While peanut oil should logically be avoided, this is not necessarily the case. The allergic reaction is caused by proteins that go out in the processing process for the oil. This is especially important for people who go on vacation to Asia, because there it is used to cook food almost everywhere. Peanut oil can be heated very high, which makes it suitable for stir-frying. It is important that the oil is extracted from the peanuts by heating, because the cold press method does not remove the allergens. I have traveled extensively through South East Asia and never experienced oil being a problem. If this is the case for you, it will be very difficult to travel there.


  1. Of course bring medication so that you can do something immediately if things go wrong. And rather too much than too little. You don't want to have to look for a pharmacy where they may not speak a word of English and thus don't understand your antihistamine demand. It is best to have the generic name of your medication (i.e. the active substance) instead of the brand name, as these can differ per country. Those who go to China would do well to obtain this information in Chinese, because an average pharmacist there will not recognize the Latin names. If you end up in a hospital, convince the staff of the seriousness of your situation, because especially in the beginning it may seem like there is little serious wrong with you.

Pay attention

  1. Finally, just be very careful. If you don't know what's in something, don't eat it. Also realize that a reaction may be different from the last time, so take action as soon as you have symptoms that point towards an allergy attack.

My experiences with peanut allergy

  1. I always thought peanuts stink and it wasn't until I was 16 that I found out it was an allergy after eating a nut roll that also contained peanuts. I felt bad, got bumps everywhere and my face started to "hang". In the restaurant where I worked at the time, I had a half-hour sneeze when I tried to clean the saté pan with lots of hot water (and thus inhaled the peanut steam). A scratch test as a subject in a science experiment revealed, unsurprisingly, that my reaction to peanuts was rather severe. As soon as the scratch was made, I felt the reaction.

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