One of the most severe and fastest growing food allergies in America involves peanuts. They're hard to avoid, because peanuts are found in a number of food products.
Allergic responses can be relatively mild with only a runny nose, or more severe, requiring a trip to the emergency room.
If a person tests positive for a peanut allergy, it can mean a total lifestyle change. A peanut allergy can be especially difficult for children.
New technology, however, is changing everything allergists once thought about peanuts. And it's changing people's lives.
Whether crunchy or smooth, peanut butter's reputation has been smeared for the millions who have tested positive for a peanut allergy.
When they think about consuming peanut-based products, they immediately think of the possible allergic reactions which include hives, diarrhea, vomiting, or in the most severe cases, death.
After years of avoiding peanuts, a new test may be able to bring this food option back to your plate again.
"I've seen a lot of smiles," says Dr. Maeve O'Connor with Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center. "We've had cheering. We've had crying -- tears of actual happiness from parents saying 'Oh my gosh I don't have to worry anymore!'"
When Stacy Phillips' son, Brennan, was an infant, he tested positive for a peanut allergy among other things.
As a result, she immediately eliminated every trace of peanut products from the entire family's consumption until Brennan's allergists suggested a second, more specific test.
"We're taking it down to the molecular level," Dr. O'Connor said, referring to the new test.
Allergens are what causes allergic reactions, and they're made up of building blocks from the entire peanut.
Current allergy tests look at the body's reaction to the whole peanut.
The new test, however, separates the components of a peanut and pin-points specific allergens to which someone is allergic.
As it turns out, not all of them cause a severe reaction despite a positive result.
Some peanut allergens allow people to snack without suffering.
"I'm thinking, 'Hallelujah! We don't have to avoid peanuts and peanut butter anymore,'" says Phillips.
The simple blood test, however, doesn't necessarily mean a person who thought they were allergic to peanuts will suddenly be able to consume them.
For Brennan, it did open up the opportunity for an oral challenge or a kind of peanut tolerability taste test with his allergist which told them the likelihood of a safe reaction, thereby reducing his risk of developing an emergency allergic reaction.
"It was truly peace of mind and not having to worry so much," Phillips says.
Now, the Phillips have shifted from a diet completely absent of peanuts to eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a regular basis.
If you were previously diagnosed with an allergy to certain foods, consult with your allergist about the newest allergy testing technology. You may discover you can consume a particular food you've been avoiding for years!
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