Three million Americans, or 1.1% of the general population, are affected by a tree nut or peanut allergy. It is the second most common food allergy and is still increasing. However, a peanut allergy may differ from a cashew allergy.
Although peanuts are notorious for causing allergic reactions, cashews appear to trigger a more severe allergic reaction. Many people start experiencing a response within a few seconds of exposure to cashews.
I will explain various topics related to peanut and cashew allergies, including differences between cashews and peanuts, symptoms of a peanut/cashew allergy, why an allergic reaction after ingestion/exposure to peanuts or tree nuts occurs, and how an allergic reaction is treated. Keep reading to learn more.
How Are Peanuts and Cashews Different?
Although peanuts have “nuts” in their name, they’re not actually nuts. Peanuts are a legume, a seed that is enclosed in a pod that grows underground. Peanuts are in the lentils, beans, and pea family. Cashews are a tree nut in the same family as walnuts, pistachios, and almonds, to name a few.
According to ResearchGate, a cashew reaction elicits a more severe response than peanuts, with wheezing and cardiovascular symptoms reported more often from cashews than peanuts. Besides cashews being more expensive than peanuts, cashews are also richer in most minerals, including vitamin C and K, which peanuts don’t have.
Symptoms of a Peanut Allergy
An allergic reaction to peanuts generally occurs within minutes after ingestion or exposure. However, there are cases where symptoms appear only hours after ingestion.
Peanut allergies range from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms of a mild allergic reaction to peanuts include:
- A runny nose
- Tingling sensation in or around your lips, tongue, and throat
- A skin reaction such as hives
- Itchy eyes
- Stomach cramps
People who have a severe allergy to peanuts can experience a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylactic shock include:
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Increased heart rate
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of airways
- Abdominal discomfort
Anaphylaxis generally starts within five to 30 minutes after being exposed to the allergen but sometimes only begins an hour or more later.
Symptoms of a Cashew Allergy
As aforementioned, cashews provoke a more severe reaction as they are a potent allergen and are commonly associated with anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to cashews include:
- Mosquito bite-like lumps on the skin
- Persistent coughing
- Facial swelling
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Stomach pain
If you ever experience any of the mentioned symptoms, mild or severe, please contact an ambulance to prevent the reaction from worsening.
Causes of an Allergic Reaction to Peanuts and Cashews
When you are allergic to something, your immune system thinks that particular allergen is a harmful invader. In the case of a cashew or peanut allergy, your immune system overreacts to the protein peanuts and cashews contain and responds by attacking them due to interpreting the protein as a threat. This phenomenon causes your body to release a chemical called histamine, which causes an allergic reaction.
A small amount of an allergen is enough to cause a reaction, so you must be sure what you are eating, drinking, incorporating in food items, and using on your body is free of any peanuts or tree nuts. Be sure to check the ingredients of everything you purchase to prevent the worst-case scenario.
Treatment for Peanut or Cashew Allergy
After a medical exam, the doctor will administer epinephrine (adrenaline). Epinephrine is a hormone and medication that assists in regulating visceral functions such as breathing.
An epinephrine auto-injector (also known as an EpiPen) is an emergency prescription for allergic reactions. It is small, easy to carry around, and your doctor will demonstrate how to use it and where to inject it. Your EpiPen should be easily accessible at all times, and it would be helpful to let those around you know how to give you the injection should you be unable to do it yourself.
Epinephrine rapidly regulates blood pressure, stimulates the heart, reduces swelling of the throat and face, and reverses hives. Each EpiPen is a single dose for one-time use, and you should never reinsert the needle.
Additional Foods To Avoid if You Have a Peanut or Cashew Allergy
There are certain foods you may not have expected to contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts. Some foods that may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts include:
- Energy bars
- Baked goods
- Veggie burgers
- Salad and salad dressing
- Sweets: Ice cream, chocolate, pudding, nougat, hot chocolate, etc.
- Sauces: Barbeque sauce, hot sauce, gravy, marinades (peanuts are sometimes used as thickeners)
- Whole-grain bread
- Nut butter
- Nut paste
- Nut oil
- Nut extracts
- Peanut flour
It is also best to avoid tree nuts, including:
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Hickory nuts
How To Prevent a Nut Allergy Reaction
Since a peanut or cashew allergy cannot be cured, prevention is the only way to reduce the risk of having an allergic reaction.
Here are a few ways you can prevent an allergic reaction to peanuts or cashews:
- Check the ingredients each time you purchase a product. The manufacturer could have changed the recipe and included peanuts or tree nuts.
- Check the ingredients for non-edible items. Peanuts and tree nuts can also be found in certain shampoos and lotions.
- Be wary when going to restaurants. Ask your server about the ingredients, and note that even if a dish doesn’t contain peanuts or tree nuts, it could still get contaminated if the dish was prepared with the same equipment that handled the peanuts/tree nuts.
The protein structure in peanuts and cashews are similar, so those allergic to peanuts have a high likelihood of having a tree nut allergy. Proteins in one substance similar to those in another are known as cross-reactivity.
That said, it is in your best interest to avoid any food item or skin product that could potentially contain peanuts or tree nuts. Always enquire about food if you did not prepare it yourself, and remember it is better to be safe than sorry!